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Three (thin) reasons why Congress could yet avoid the fiscal cliff

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Now, it’s up to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, seasoned veterans at partisan floor maneuvers to thwart the other side, to switch gears and rally support for a bipartisan deal, especially finding an acceptable cut-off point for extending the Bush tax cuts.

There are other elements of what has come to be known as the fiscal cliff – a $600 billion mix of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take hold on Jan. 1 – that may be postponed in the rush to an 11th hour agreement.

These include $110 billion in mandated spending cuts, known as the "sequester," unemployment benefits set to drop back to 26 weeks from a current 99 weeks, the end to a $5 million exemption for the estate tax, and a "patch" to the alternative minimum tax, set to hit some 40 million families, if Congress not act. Also on the table: a hike to the debt ceiling, now set to be breached early on Dec. 31, which the Treasury says can be delayed for weeks by emergency measures.

In a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, President Obama restated his goal of extending tax breaks only for family incomes below $250,000. But in negotiations with Boehner, the president had proposed raising that threshold to $400,000 – a level endorsed by many Senate Republicans and likely to win the support even of some Tea Party conservatives.

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