A weary Congress sent President Obama legislation to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of middle-class tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts late tonight, hours before financial markets reopen after the New Year's holiday. The bill's passage on a 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. "Thanks to the votes of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans while preventing tax hikes that could have sent the economy back into recession," Obama said minutes after the vote passed. He spoke with Joe Biden at his side, a recognition of the VP's role as the lead Democratic negotiator in final talks with Mitch McConnell.
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 had sought. 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. (Read more fiscal cliff stories.)