The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 1, 2013

Senate passes legislation to avoid impact of fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed legislation to block the impact of across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that make up the fiscal cliff.

The vote was an overwhelming 89-8 and came well after midnight on New Year's Day.

A House vote is expected before Wednesday.

The White House-backed legislation would prevent middle-class taxes from rising, and raise rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

It also blocks spending cuts for two months, extends unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevents a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevents a spike in milk prices.

A last-minute addition would also prevent a $900 pay raise for members of Congress from taking effect in March.

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.

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.

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