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Democratic officials: Fiscal ‘cliff’ deal reached
First Published Dec 31 2012 07:10 pm • Last Updated Dec 31 2012 11:33 pm

Washington • Racing the clock, the White House sealed a New Year’s Eve accord with Senate Republicans late Monday to neutralize across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts in government programs due to take effect at midnight, according to administration and Democratic officials.

Under the deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples — levels higher than President Barack Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office.

At a glance

Details of tentative deal averting ‘fiscal cliff’

Highlights of a tentative agreement Monday between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.

Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.

Capital gains, dividends: Taxes on capital gains and dividend income exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.

Alternative minimum tax: Permanently addresses the alternative minimum tax and indexes it for inflation to prevent nearly 30 million middle- and upper-middle income taxpayers from being hit with higher tax bills averaging almost $3,000. The tax was originally designed to ensure that the wealthy did not avoid owing taxes by using loopholes.

Other tax changes: Extends for five years Obama-sought expansions of the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and an up to $2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Also extends for one year accelerated “bonus” depreciation of business investments in new property and equipment, a tax credit for research and development costs and a tax credit for renewable energy such as wind-generated electricity.

Unemployment benefits: Extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.

Cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors: Blocks a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors for one year. The cut is the product of an obsolete 1997 budget formula.

Social Security payroll tax cut: Allows a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax first enacted two years ago to lapse, which restores the payroll tax to 6.2 percent.

Across-the-board cuts: Delays for two months $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts set to start striking the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week. Cost of $24 billion is divided between spending cuts and new revenues from rules changes on converting traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs.

The Associated Press

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Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.

Officials also decided at the last minute to use the measure to prevent a $900 pay raise for lawmakers due to take effect this spring.

Even by the dysfunctional standards of government-by-gridlock, the activity at both ends of historic Pennsylvania Avenue was remarkable as the administration and lawmakers spent the final hours of 2012 haggling over long-festering differences.

"One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there’s even one second left before you have to do what you’re supposed to do, they will use that last second," the president said in a mid-afternoon status update on the talks.

As darkness fell on the last day of the year, Obama, Biden and their aides were at work in the White House, and lights burned in the House and Senate. Democrats complained that Obama had given away too much in agreeing to limit tax increases to incomes over $450,000, far above the $250,000 level he campaigned on. Yet some Republicans recoiled at the prospect of raising taxes at all.

Democratic senators said they expected a post-midnight vote on the measure. They spoke after a closed-door session with Vice President Joseph Biden, who brokered the deal with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

"The argument is that this is the best that can be done on a bipartisan basis," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., when asked about the case the vice president had delivered behind closed doors.

Passage would send the measure to the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refrained from endorsing a package as yet unseen by his famously rebellious rank-and-file. He said the House would not vote on any Senate-passed measure "until House members — and the American people — have been able to review" it.


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Numerous GOP officials said McConnell and his aides had kept the speaker’s office informed about the progress of the talks.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, issued a statement saying that when legislation clears the Senate, "I will present it to the House Democratic caucus."

Without legislation, economists in and out of government warned of a possible recession if the economy were allowed to fall over a fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.

And while the nominal deadline for action passed at midnight, Obama’s signature on legislation by the time a new Congress takes office at noon on Jan. 3, 2013 — the likely timetable — would eliminate or minimize any inconvenience for taxpayers.

A late dispute over the estate tax produced allegations of bad faith from all sides.

After hours of haggling, Biden headed for the Capitol to brief the Democratic rank and file.

Earlier, McConnell had agreed with Obama that an overall deal was near. In remarks on the Senate floor, he suggested Congress move quickly to pass tax legislation and "continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending" next year.

The White House and Democrats initially declined the offer, preferring to prevent the cuts from kicking in at the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike. A two-month compromise resulted.

Officials in both parties said the agreement would prevent tax increases at incomes below $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

At higher levels, the rate would rise to a maximum of 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent. Capital gains and dividends in excess of those amounts would be taxed at 20 percent, up from 15 percent.

The deal also would also raise taxes on the portion of estates exceeding $5 million to 40 percent. At the

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