'Fiscal cliff' bill delays budget cuts
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. budget cuts set to take effect Wednesday were delayed as Congress passed a "fiscal cliff" bill that raised tax rates on the rich with Republican support.
The bill, sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, averts big income tax increases on most Americans.
It also keeps benefits flowing to 2 million unemployed workers and delays for two months automatic cuts to the Defense Department and other agencies that had been set to take effect Wednesday. It also lets tax rates go up on household income and investment profits over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.
Obama appeared in the White House press briefing room minutes after the House passed the bill.
"Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America," Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden standing behind him.
The New Year's Day bill defers the ballooning cost of healthcare and cuts the deficit by $600 billion instead of the $4 trillion Obama and congressional leaders said they wanted to negotiate.
Boehner pledges to take up Sandy relief
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, ripped by Northeast lawmakers in both parties, pledged to pass a Superstorm Sandy relief bill in January.
"The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month," Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith told The Hill Wednesday.
Boehner did not bring a House-developed $27 billion Sandy relief package, which wasn't offset by spending cuts, late Tuesday as the chamber tackled Senate-passed legislation on the "fiscal cliff" confluence of massive tax increases and spending cuts that technically occurred Tuesday because Congress did not act before the deadline.
The Hill reported House leaders were planning to allow a vote on the $27 billion bill and on an amendment that would increase the aid by another $33 billion – roughly matching the Senate-passed $60.4 billion bill.
However, the plans changed after most members of the GOP voted against the fiscal cliff bill because it had little or no spending cuts, and the leadership said it wouldn't ask its members to approve $60 billion in new spending.
Witnesses: 12 family members die in attack
DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Syrian warplanes attacked several areas Wednesday, including a town in which 12 people from the same family died, activists said.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said on its Facebook page the family members -- mostly children -- were killed during an aerial bombardment on Mouadamiya.
Witnesses also said dozens of people were killed and wounded from an air attack on a gas station in the al-Maliha area and many of the bodies appeared to have been burned.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it also documented the death of 115 people, including 23 killed by torture, across Syria Tuesday, and including 13 children, five women.
The network said Damascus and its countryside reported 38 deaths Tuesday, followed by Hama, with 29 deaths.
Meanwhile, the political adviser of the Free Syrian Army claimed the Syrian opposition can assemble chemical weapons if necessary, Today's Zaman reported.
Adviser Bassam al-Dada told Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency Syria's President Bashar Assad should know that if he threatens opposition fighters with chemical weapons, "we also possess them."
Three hurt in Turkish high school blast
ANKARA, Turkey, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Three students were injured Wednesday in the explosion of a percussion bomb at a high school in southeastern Turkey, authorities said.
The midday blast in Cizre, in the province of Sirnak, was attributed to members of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party, Today's Zaman reported.
The homemade noise bomb was placed in a hallway on the third floor of the school, the Hurriyet Daily News said.
The injured students were taken to a local hospital. Their conditions were not immediately released.
Oil rig remains beached in Alaska
KODIAK, Ala., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Authorities said an offshore drilling rig remains aground on an Alaskan island, but they don't believe the vessel, owned by Shell, has leaked any fuel.
The Los Angeles Times said the 266-foot rig is holding more than 150,000 gallons of fuel and other petroleum products.
The Los Angeles Times said the rig was being towed from Dutch Harbor last week when its main tow line and its emergency line detached during conditions of high winds.
Authorities said the towing vessel's engine then failed.
The Los Angeles Times said the crew of the Royal Dutch Shell rig was evacuated and authorities made the decision to drop the last tow line over the weekend during stormy weather.
The rig hit ground Monday night and has since been beached on an island in southern Alaska near Kodiak Island. Officials said two attempts to survey damage to the rig failed Tuesday as a result of high winds.