'Fiscal cliff' disputes remain as deadline nears

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2012 at 7:39 am •  Published: December 31, 2012
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"It's just acknowledging the reality," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of the GOP decision to drop the idea.

There was still no final agreement on the income level above which decade-old income tax cuts would be allowed to expire. While Obama has long insisted on letting the top 35 percent tax rate rise to 39.6 percent on earnings over $250,000, he'd agreed to boost that level to $400,000 in his talks with Boehner. GOP senators said they wanted the figure hoisted to at least that level.

Senators said disagreements remained over taxing large inherited estates. Republicans want the tax left at its current 35 percent, with the first $5.1 million excluded, while Democrats want the rate increased to 45 percent with a smaller exclusion.

The two sides were also apart on how to keep the alternative minimum tax from raising the tax bills of nearly 30 million middle-income families and how to extend tax breaks for research by business and other activities.

Republicans were insisting that budget cuts be found to pay for some of the spending proposals Democrats were pushing.

These included proposals to erase scheduled defense and domestic cuts exceeding $200 billion over the next two years and to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans complained that in effect, Democrats would pay for that spending with the tax boosts on the wealthy.

"We can't use tax increases on anyone to pay for more spending," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Both parties also want to block an immediate 27 percent cut in reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Republicans wanted to find savings from Obama's health care bill as well as from Medicare providers, while Democrats want to protect the health care law from cuts.

Both sides agree that a temporary 2-percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax was likely to expire. That reduction — to 4.2 percent — was initiated by Obama two years ago to help spur the economy and has meant $1,000 annual savings to families earning $50,000.

A senior defense official said if the spending cuts were triggered, the Pentagon would soon begin notifying its 800,000 civilian employees to expect furloughs — mandatory unpaid leave, not layoffs. It would take time for the furloughs to be implemented, said the official, who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the preparations

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Associated Press writers David Espo, Julie Pace, Robert Burns and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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