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In 'fiscal cliff' deal, Joe Biden upstages President Obama (+ video)

With 'fiscal cliff' talks teetering, Vice President Joe Biden – a former longtime senator – stepped in to broker a deal with his old colleagues and and stave off big tax hikes for most Americans.

Deal reached on so-called 'fiscal cliff'
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 The Senate deal to avert the fiscal cliff – or, at least, the harshest elements of it – owes much to the outsize, 11th-hour role of Vice President Joe Biden as “dance partner” to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky.

The deal extends Bush-era tax rates for all Americans except those with individual incomes over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000, which will be taxed at a maximum 39.6 percent rate, up from 35 percent.

The measure also extends Bush-era tax credits for families with children, the tuition tax credit, business tax credits, college tuition tax credits, and stimulus tax credits, such as credits for clean-energy companies. It extends unemployment insurance at the current 99 weeks. (Had Congress not acted, jobless coverage would have reverted back to 24 weeks.)

But it delays until next year a decision on what to do about the $110 billion in "sequester" cuts to government spending mandated by the debt-ceiling deal of 2011.

The Senate passed a bill to avert the fiscal cliff early Tuesday morning, 89-8. Now, the bill goes to the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said in a statement after the vote that the House will "honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed."

"But decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members – and the American people – have been able to review the legislation," he added.

As recently as about 7 p.m. Saturday night, prospects for a deal looked in doubt. Talk between Senate majority and minority leaders had ceased.

Years of gridlock take a toll on Senate leaders, especially veterans like Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and Senator McConnell, who have been battling each other on the front lines of arcane Senate procedure for years.

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