And while the nominal deadline for action passed at midnight, Obama's signature on legislation by the time a new Congress takes office at noon on Jan. 3, 2013 â¿¿ the likely timetable â¿¿ would eliminate or minimize any inconvenience for taxpayers.

A late dispute over the estate tax produced allegations of bad faith from all sides.

After hours of haggling, Biden headed for the Capitol to brief the Democratic rank and file.

Earlier, McConnell had agreed with Obama that an overall deal was near. In remarks on the Senate floor, he suggested Congress move quickly to pass tax legislation and "continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending" next year.

The White House and Democrats initially declined the offer, preferring to prevent the cuts from kicking in at the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike. A two-month compromise resulted.

Officials in both parties said the agreement would prevent tax increases at incomes below $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

At higher levels, the rate would rise to a maximum of 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent. Capital gains and dividends in excess of those amounts would be taxed at 20 percent, up from 15 percent.

The deal also would also raise taxes on the portion of estates exceeding $5 million to 40 percent. At the insistence of Republicans, the $5 million threshold would rise each year with inflation.

Much or all of the revenue to be raised through higher taxes on the wealthy would help hold down the amount paid to the Internal Revenue Service by the middle class.

In addition to preventing higher rates for most, the agreement would retain existing breaks for families with children, for low-earning taxpayers and for those with a child in college. Also, the two sides agreed to prevent the alternative minimum tax from expanding to affect an estimated 28 million households for the first time in 2013, with an average increase of more than $3,000. The law originally was designed to make sure millionaires did not escape taxes, but inflation has gradually exposed more and more households with lower earnings to its impact.

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