WASHINGTON — 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.
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.
WASHINGTON -- Maneuvered into a political corner, House Republicans abandoned demands for changes in emergency legislation to prevent widespread tax increases and painful across-the-board spending cuts and cleared the way for a final, climactic New Year's night vote.
The decision capped a day of intense political calculations for conservatives who control the House. They had to weigh their desire to cut spending against the fear that the Senate would refuse to consider any changes they made in the "fiscal cliff" bill, sending it into limbo and saddling Republicans with the blame for a whopping middle class tax increase.
Adding to the GOP discomfort, one Senate Democratic leadership aide said Majority Leader Harry Reid would "absolutely not take up the bill" if the House changed it. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a requirement to keep internal deliberations private.
The legislation cleared the Senate hours earlier on a lopsided pre-dawn vote of 89-8. Administration officials met at the White House to monitor its progress.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., sent out separate news releases around 2 a.m. Tuesday on the Senate deal.
"This deal is by no means perfect, but it fully protects middle-class tax cuts, reinstates Clinton-era tax rates for the very wealthy, and extends several tax credits that are crucial to low-income families throughout West Virginia," Rockefeller said. "Through these strong actions, we can begin to close the historic income divide that has plagued our nation for decades."
Manchin said, "This is not the 'big fix' I want, but it's the best we can do at this late hour. ... The fact is, this deal is the flawed product of a broken process that puts politics ahead of people. And it sets us up for more dangerous political gamesmanship in the months ahead. But the bottom line is this last-minute deal guarantees that the paychecks of middle-class Americans won't take a big hit from higher taxes on New Year's Day, and it protects more than 99 percent of all West Virginians."
"I do not support the bill. We are looking, though, for the best path forward," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., declared after one meeting of the party's rank-and-file.
Despite Cantor's remarks, Speaker John Boehner took no public position on the bill as he sought to negotiate a conclusion to the final crisis of a two-year term full of them.
It wasn't the first time that the tea party-infused House Republican majority has rebelled against the party establishment since the GOP took control of the chamber 24 months ago. But with the two-year term set to end Thursday at noon, it was likely the last. And as was true in earlier cases of a threatened default and government shutdown, the brinkmanship came on a matter of economic urgency, leaving the party open to a public backlash if tax increases do take effect on tens of millions.
After intensive deliberations - a pair of rank-and-file meetings sandwiched around a leadership session, the GOP high command had not yet settled on a course of action by early evening.
Instead, they canvassed Republicans to see if they wanted simply to vote on the Senate measure, or whether they wanted first to try and add spending cuts totaling about $300 billion over a decade. The cuts had passed the House twice earlier in the year but are opposed by most if not all Senate Democrats.
"We've gone as far as we can go," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. "I think people are ready to bring this to a conclusion, and know we have a whole year ahead of us" for additional fights over spending.