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Congress OKs Cliff Deal, Signaling Future Fights

Both sides lamented their failure to reach a significant deficit-cutting agreement. But neither much mentioned another omission: The immediate expiration of a two-year, 2-percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax.

That break, which put an extra $1,000 in the wallets of typical families earning $50,000 a year, was an Obama priority two years ago as a way to boost consumer spending and spark the flagging economy, but it fell victim this time to other priorities.

House Democrats voted by an overwhelming 172-16 for the agreement, which was crafted over the weekend by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden.

But Republicans tilted against it 151-85. It is rare for leaders to bring a bill to the House floor that will be opposed by most lawmakers from their own party, and the decision underscored the pressure GOP leaders felt to approve the legislation.

Boehner, R-Ohio, took no public stance on the measure before the vote. But he guided the compromise to the House floor after an unsuccessful attempt by many conservatives to persuade leaders to add spending cuts to the bill.

Had the House inserted those budget cuts and the Senate refused to consider them, the legislation could have died. That left House Republicans worried that voters might blame them for a huge, sweeping tax increase and for any swoon the nation's financial markets might take when they reopened Wednesday.

"You can be right and you can be dead right. Which is it?" said Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., of the quandary Republicans faced. "Right now you need to take the tax issue off the table" and move on to a focus on curbing spending, he said.

Boehner voted for the bill, an unusual step because speakers seldom vote, and he was joined by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the GOP's vice presidential candidate last fall. Voting "no" were the other two top GOP leaders, Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California.

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