By DAVID ESPO and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Past its own New Year's deadline, a weary Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation to avoid a national "fiscal cliff" of middle class tax increases and spending cuts late Tuesday night in the culmination of a struggle that strained America's divided government to the limit.
The bill's passage on a bipartisan 257-167 vote in the House sealed a hard-won political triumph for the president less than two months after he secured re-election while calling for higher taxes on the wealthy.
Moments later, Obama strode into the White House briefing room and declared, "Thanks to the votes of Republicans and Democrats in Congress I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing tax hikes that could have sent the economy back into recession."
He spoke with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, a recognition of the former senator's role as the lead Democratic negotiator in final compromise talks with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In addition to neutralizing middle class tax increases and spending cuts taking effect with the new year, the legislation will raise tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. That was higher than the thresholds of $200,000 and $250,000 that Obama campaigned for. But remarkably, in a party that swore off tax increases two decades ago, dozens of Republicans supported the bill at both ends of the Capitol.
The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 89-8 less than 24 hours earlier, and in the interim, rebellious House conservatives demanded a vote to add significant spending cuts to the measure. But in the end they retreated.
The measure split the upper ranks of the Republican leadership in the House.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio voted in favor, while Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the party's whip, opposed the bill. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party's 2012 vice presidential candidate, supported the measure.