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House Republicans' 'fiscal cliff' gripe: When will we ever get spending cuts? (+video)

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Now with that day come – and almost gone – these lawmakers are caught between a desire to hold Congress accountable and a fear that failure to reach a fiscal cliff deal could set off a sharp response on Wall Street Wednesday. The stark fact is that, at this moment, the Senate deal is the only thing preventing the US from plunging fully over the fiscal cliff – the $600 billion in tax hikes and automatic spending cuts that many economists say might throw the country into a fresh recession.

One path House Republicans are considering is adding spending cuts to the deal in the form of amendments. But amendments at this point are perilous for the bill. Any change voted by the House must be approved by the Senate or worked out in a conference committee and passed by both bodies. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada on Monday told senators not to expect any further votes in the current session of Congress, which expires at noon Thursday.

If nothing is worked out by Thursday, the new Congress must start from scratch.

The Senate bill:

  • Blocks tax hikes on individuals with income under $400,000 and families with income of less than $450,000.
  • Extends individual and business tax credits.
  • Maintains unemployment insurance at 99 weeks.
  • Permanently extends the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) set to hit some 30 million families.
  • Blocks cuts in payments to physicians serving Medicare patients.
  • Prevents the estate tax from reverting to previous rules, which hit estates valued at $1 million or above. The current exclusion level is $5 million.
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