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House Passes Legislation to Avoid Fiscal Cliff

7:20 PM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Legislation to block the "fiscal cliff" is headed to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature. The bill will avoid, for now, the major tax increases and government spending cuts that had been scheduled to take effect with the new year.

Final approval came in the House on New Year's Night. The vote was 257 to 167.

President Barack Obama was expected to sign the legislation into law before financial markets opened Wednesday.

The Senate passed the bill less than 24 hours earlier.

The measure raises tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples, a victory for Obama.

It also extends expiring unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevents a cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and cancels a $900 pay increase due to lawmakers in March.

Another provision is designed to prevent a spike in milk prices.

The moment of truth in the drawn-out battle came shortly before 11 p.m. as the legislation topped the 218-vote majority needed for passage.

Seven of New York's eight House Republicans joined many Democrats in voting to accept the compromise agreement, which was generally supported by New York Democrats. Lame duck Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle of Onondaga did not vote.

The House vote came about 21 hours after the Senate passed the legislation, which renews most of the Bush-era tax cuts. It allows higher rates to kick in for families earning more than $450,000 and phases out many deductions for households earning more than $250,000.

Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were among the 89 members of the Senate who voted to pass the measure.

The deal also postpones the fiscal cliff's spending cuts for two months, averts a spike in milk prices and freezes congressional salaries.

Republican Reps. Chris Gibson of Kinderhook and Richard Hanna of Oneida County said they supported the bipartisan compromise, while Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island echoed many other Republicans who complained earlier in the day the deal needed to be accompanied by spending cuts.

"I think that it's the 11th hour," Hanna said. "The public needs certainty and this does prevent tax increases for 98 percent of the population. It isn't everything everyone wants, but I think right now it's the best option we have and, frankly, it's the only option.''

Grimm called the compromise reached by Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell "completely one-sided."

"I don't really have much heartburn over the tax situation," Grimm said. "It's a compromise and I know we have to compromise, but there's no spending cuts at all."

Republican Rep. Tom Reed of Corning was noncommittal until Tuesday night shortly before the vote, when he announced he would vote yes .

"In my opinion it does protect 99 percent of the people in our district, and it does so on a permanent basis,'' Reed said.

Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth also planned to vote yes, according to spokesman Terence Michos.

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of the Bronx observed: "There are parts of it I don't like, but I think it's a compromise that's better than the alternative. The alternative is to go over the fiscal cliff."

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, urged Republicans to support the Biden-McConnell compromise.

"No compromise is perfect, but failing to pass this deal only ensures higher tax bills and reduced economic growth," she said.

Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of Fairport described the compromise as "far from perfect," but said she supported it.

"The process that led us here has been an utter disgrace," Slaughter said as the House opened its floor debate. "Yet in this time of crisis, we must act first and foremost to protect the American economy."

Slaughter said she would have preferred an income cutoff lower than $450,000 for renewing the Bush tax cuts, but it's "not a killer" for her support.

Downstate Democrats such as Lowey and Engel support the higher income cutoff because their region of the state has more high income residents who have a higher cost of living.

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Brian Tumulty from Gannett Washington Bureau contributed to this report

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