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Divided US House passes fiscal plan, ends crisis

Washington, Jan. 2: The US House passed and sent to President Barack Obama legislation to avert big income tax increases on most Americans and prevent large cuts in spending for the Pentagon and other government programs, ending a climactic fiscal showdown in the final hours of the 112th Congress.

The measure, brought to the House floor less than 24 hours after its passage in the Senate, was approved 257 to 167, with 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in voting to allow income taxes to rise for the first time in two decades, in this case for the highest-earning Americans. Voting no were 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

The bill was expected to be signed quickly by Obama, who won re-election on a promise to increase taxes on the wealthy.

Obama strode into the White House briefing room shortly after the vote, less to hail the end of the fiscal crisis than to lay out a marker for the next one.

“The one thing that I think, hopefully, the new year will focus on,” he said, “is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinkmanship, and not scare the heck out of folks quite as much.”

In approving, the measure after days of legislative intrigue, the US Congress concluded its final and most pitched fight over fiscal policy, the culmination of two years of battles over taxes, the federal debt, spending and what to do to slow the growth in popular social programs like Medicare.

The decision by Republican leaders to allow the vote came despite widespread scorn among House Republicans for the bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate in the early hours of New Year’s Day. They were unhappy that it did not include significant spending cuts in health and other social programs, which they say are essential to any long-term solution to US’s debt.

Democrats, while hardly placated by the compromise, celebrated Obama’s nominal victory in his final showdown with House Republicans in the 112th Congress, who began their term emboldened by scores of new, conservative members whose reach to the right ultimately tipped them over.

“The American people are the real winners tonight,” Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., the Democrat of New Jersey, said on the House floor, “not anyone who navigates these halls.”

 
 
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