The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 31, 2012

'Fiscal cliff' disputes remain as deadline nears

(Continued)

In a move that was sure to irritate Republicans, Reid was planning — absent a deal — to force a Senate vote Monday on Obama's campaign-season proposal to continue expiring tax cuts for all but those with income exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

Attached to the measure — which the GOP seemed likely to block — would be an extension of jobless benefits for around 2 million long-term unemployed people. The plan was described by Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat.

The House and Senate met Sunday ready to debate an agreement or at least show voters they were trying. But the day produced alternating bursts of progress and pitfalls, despite Senate chaplain Barry Black's opening prayer in which he asked the heavens, "Look with favor on our nation and save us from self-inflicted wounds."

In one sign of movement, Republicans dropped a demand to slow the growth of Social Security and other benefits by changing how those payments are increased each year to allow for inflation.

Obama had offered to include that change, despite opposition by many Democrats, as part of earlier, failed bargaining with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over a larger deficit reduction agreement. But Democrats said they would never include the new inflation formula in the smaller deal now being sought to forestall wide-ranging tax boosts and budget cuts, and Republicans relented.

"It's just acknowledging the reality," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of the GOP decision to drop the idea.

There was still no final agreement on the income level above which decade-old income tax cuts would be allowed to expire. While Obama has long insisted on letting the top 35 percent tax rate rise to 39.6 percent on earnings over $250,000, he'd agreed to boost that level to $400,000 in his talks with Boehner. GOP senators said they wanted the figure hoisted to at least that level.

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