WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress' excruciating, extraordinary New Year's Day approval of a compromise averting a prolonged tumble off the fiscal cliff hands President Barack Obama most of the tax boosts on the rich that he campaigned on. It also prevents House Republicans from facing blame for blocking tax cuts for most American households, though most GOP lawmakers parted ways with Speaker John Boehner and opposed the measure.
Passage also lays the groundwork for future battles between the two sides over federal spending and debt.
Capping a holiday season political spectacle that featured enough high and low notes for a Broadway musical, the GOP-run House voted final approval for the measure by 257-167 late Tuesday. That came after the Democratic-led Senate used a wee-hours 89-8 roll call to assent to the bill, belying the partisan brinkmanship that colored much of the path to the final deal.
"A central promise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans," Obama said at the White House before flying to Hawaii to resume his holiday break. "Tonight we've done that."
The bill would boost the top 35 percent income tax rate to 39.6 percent for incomes exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples, while continuing decade-old income tax cuts for everyone else. In his re-election campaign last year Obama had vowed to boost rates on earnings at somewhat lower levels — $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.
Scores of GOP lawmakers voted for the measure, reversing a quarter-century of solid Republican opposition to boosting any tax rates at all.
The bill would also raise taxes top earners pay on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates; permanently stop the alternative minimum tax from raising levies on millions of middle-income families; extend expiring jobless benefits; prevent cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors; and delay for two months billions in budget-wide cuts in defense and domestic programs slated for this year.