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Nerves frayed, but fiscal cliff averted

NEED TO KNOW
  • Obama warns Congress: Don't do this again
  • House of Representatives approves Senate's fiscal cliff plan
  • What's in and what's out and what it means to you
Nerves frayed, but fiscal cliff averted

OK, that was scary.

Congress has finally voted to approve a bill to avert a fiscal cliff that would have led to higher taxes on most Americans. It now heads to President Obama's desk for his approval.

The measure passed the House by a 257-167 vote late Tuesday. Speaker John Boehner was among the GOP lawmakers who voted yes for the plan.

Obama, before heading back to Hawaii to rejoin his family on vacation, chided both the House and Senate for its protracted tug of war over the vote, which frayed the nerves of many Americans.

"While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they've passed," he said after Tuesday's vote. Obama said he hoped 2013 would see more bipartisan compromise in Washington "with a little bit less drama, a little less brinksmanship [and] not scare the heck out of folks quite as much."

The deal was in limbo for most of the day as House Democrats and House Republicans met separately to discuss the Senate plan. House Republicans decided to bring the measure up for a vote instead of trying to add an amendment to the Senate bill that would have added $300 billion in spending cuts.

Some top GOP lawmakers had concerns about the deal reached by the Senate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said earlier that he opposed the bill in its current form.

It is unclear when Obama will sign the measure.

The bill passed in the Senate early Tuesday morning, thanks in part to the efforts of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden. 

Lawmakers were under additional pressure to get the measure done quickly because a new Congress would have been sworn in on Thursday. If the bill didn't pass by then, the bill passed by the previous Senate would no longer apply and both the Senate and House would have had to go back to the drawing board.

Here’s what is in the bill passed by the Senate:

  • Tax rates: No more expiring rates. Any individual making less than $400,000 per year will pay taxes at the existing rate. Same for families making less than $450,000. Anyone making more will see their taxes rise to Clinton-era levels.
  • Unemployment benefit extension: Federal unemployment insurance will be extended for another year for those whose state benefits have expired.
  • The expansion of several tax credits enjoyed by working class Americans will be extended for five years, namely the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
  • The "dairy cliff" is averted… for now. A partial extension of the farm bill means milk prices won’t skyrocket for at least nine months.
  • A permanent patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax: A tax that increasingly was hitting the middle-class will be prevented from hitting them in the future.
  • The capital gains tax will rise to 20% for anyone above the tax threshold set for income tax rates.
  • The estate tax will be set at 40% for those above the $400,000/$450,000 threshold, with the first $5 million exempted.
  • A pay freeze for Congress and federal workers that President Barack Obama lifted last week will be re-imposed.
  • Cuts to reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients will be avoided for another year. (This is referred to as the Doc fix.)
  • Two limits for tax exemptions and deductions for higher-income Americans will kick back in.

Here’s what’s not in the plan: 

  • Payroll tax holiday extension: Bottom line, this temporary break in the payroll tax is going away for good, and most Americans can expect to see less money in their next paycheck.
  • Extension of the debt ceiling: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says we hit the ceiling Monday. Extraordinary measures will keep us from defaulting on our debt for a couple months, but you can expect another big fight coming to Congress.
  • Permanent fix for automatic spending cuts: Congress will push back the dreaded “sequester” for at least two months. That should give Congress time to deal with the mandatory cuts in a responsible manner. (Which is the same thing people said about the fiscal cliff deadline.

Download a .pdf of the full bill from CNN.com.

HLN's Jennifer Westhoven will have details on these provisions and what to expect from today's proceedings in the House on Morning Express with Robin Meade.

Gallery: 11 Cliffs we like more than the fiscal one

Morning Express with Robin Meade airs Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. ET on HLN.  Like the show on Facebook, follow on Twitter: @MorningExp.

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