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Congress Votes to Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff'

By Bryan Warner

RALEIGH - The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted 257-167 to approve a Senate compromise on the so-called “fiscal cliff” late Tuesday night, avoiding steep automatic spending cuts and historically high tax increases.

Under the approved deal, Bush-era tax cuts would be made permanent for all households earning below $450,000 – or $400,000 for individuals – while expiring for those with incomes above that threshold. Meanwhile, a 2009 payroll-tax deduction was allowed to end for all earners. Also among the bill’s provisions was the extension of long-term unemployment benefits. The issue of spending cuts was pushed off for two more months.

Just 85 Republicans joined 172 Democrats in voting for the deal, with 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats opposed.

North Carolina's congressional delegation was split on the matter, with Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield, David Price, Larry Kissell, Heath Shuler and Mel Watt joined by Republican Rep. Howard Coble in supporting the measure. Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers, Walter Jones, Virginia Foxx, Sue Myrick and Patrick McHenry were joined by Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre and Brad Miller in opposing the bill.

The nighttime vote capped weeks of intense debate and deal-making between Congress and the White House, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden breaking an impasse and striking the compromise ultimately passed by both chambers.

Many of the remarks made on the House floor Tuesday trumpeted the bill as a sensible, if imperfect, resolution to the crisis. But Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) noted that the dire situation was largely the making of Congress itself through such actions as a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling in 2011 that came bundled with the threat of across-the-board cuts to federal spending and a 2010 compromise that placed a sunset for the Bush-era tax cuts at the end of 2012.

“We created this monster,” Rangel said.

The fiscal-cliff compromise left many Republicans feeling frustrated by the lack of spending cuts in the plan and the party’s acquiescence on raising taxes on the wealthy, but GOP leadership in the House was likely concerned with opposing the bill and triggering widespread tax increases.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said that failure to pass the compromise would result in the “biggest tax increase in the history of the country.”

Camp seemed to position the bill as a prelude to later debates on government spending and a victory for supporters of the Bush-era tax reductions. “This permanently sets how much money the government can take out of the economy,” Camp said.

House Speaker John Boehner did not address the body before the vote.

In a statement released by the White House after the Senate approved the compromise on Tuesday, President Barack Obama praised the deal, saying, “This agreement will also grow the economy and shrink our deficits in a balanced way – by investing in our middle class, and by asking the wealthy to pay a little more.”

With the immediate crisis averted, the president and Congress will still have to grapple with looming budget cuts and yet another debt-ceiling debate likely to come in February or March.