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Dec. 31, 2012 at 8:17 AM   |   Comments

Congress creates fiscal cliff-hanger

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- U.S. lawmakers say they hope the Senate will adopt a "fiscal cliff" bill Monday that the House would act on by midnight, but House members say they may delay.

Delaying past midnight would mean missing the fiscal cliff deadline, but with U.S. financial markets closed for the New Year's Day holiday, some House members said they doubted the economy would suffer, The Washington Post reported.

If a last-minute deal does not come through, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was expected to move Monday to bring a vote on a stopgap measure pushed by President Barack Obama that would retain lower tax rates for incomes $250,000 or less and extend unemployment benefits, The New York Times reported.

But Senate rules allow a single senator to prevent that from happening simply by objecting to the bill, the Times said.

Unless Republicans and Democrats can reach a deal by midnight, tax rates will go up for virtually all Americans, 2 million people receiving extended unemployment benefits will lose their stipends and severe federal spending cuts will kick in, potentially sending the U.S. economy back into recession.

In addition, nearly 30 million taxpayers would be required to pay the costly alternative minimum tax for the first time.

Democrats yielded in new 11th-hour "fiscal cliff" offers late Sunday, and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talked ahead of the midnight deadline.

The Democratic concessions included a proposal to raise tax rates on household income above $450,000 a year rather than above $250,000, the Post said.

Obama vowed during the recent presidential campaign to raise tax rates on incomes above the lower figure, although he made the higher-figure offer himself later.

McConnell said he didn't like the Democrats' offer, saying he wanted to set the income threshold for tax increases at $550,000, people close to the talks in both parties told the Post.


Merkel: Euro debt crisis 'far from over'

BERLIN, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- The eurozone debt crisis is "far from over," even as reforms begin to show results, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in remarks to be broadcast Monday.

"The reforms that we've agreed on are starting to be effective," Merkel said in her recorded New Year's address.

"Nevertheless, we still need a lot of patience. The crisis is far from over," she said in a transcript of her addressed released early Monday.

Her comments differed from those of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who was quoted Thursday as telling the Bild newspaper, "I think we have the worst behind us."

They also differed from those of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who told France's Europe 1 radio Nov. 30, "The recovery for the entire eurozone will no doubt begin in the second half of 2013."

Merkel, 58, who faces an election to a third term in September, pointed to Germany's lowest level of unemployment since 1990's reunification of East Germany and West Germany, while the number of people employed had risen to record highs.

She said this meant "many hundreds of thousands of families have a secure future."


At least 29 killed, 70 injured in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Explosions and other violence in Iraq resulted in the deaths of at least 29 people Monday, with about 70 injured, security officials said.

The incidents were concentrated mainly in Babel and Diyala governorates, the Kuwaiti news service KUNA reported.

Security officials said police and armed forces were sent to help secure the areas where the violence occurred.


Adam Lanza's body claimed

NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- An anonymous person claimed the body of Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, an official said.

The burial site for Lanza, who killed himself after the shooting rampage, is also being kept secret, Connecticut Medical Examiner Wayne H. Carver II said.

Carver ruled Lanza's death a suicide and will complete the case once he receives the results of a toxicology test, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant reported Sunday.

Before shooting 20 children and six adults to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Lanza, 20, had allegedly killed his mother, Nancy, at their house. Nancy Lanza's body was claimed by a funeral home in New Hampshire and buried earlier this month.


Alleged subway pusher had mental issues

NEW YORK, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A 31-year-old New York City woman charged in the death of an Indian man she allegedly pushed onto subway tracks had a history of mental illness, police said.

Erika Menendez had been treated by the psychiatric staffs of mental health facilities in Manhattan and Queens -- Bellevue and Elmhurst Hospital Center, The New York Times reported Monday.

The exact nature of what Menendez was being treated for and any medications she was taking -- or was supposed to be taking -- was not reported.

Menendez had also been arrested at least three times, twice after violent confrontation, said police officers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"She has been in and out of institutions," one officer said.

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