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Jan. 1, 2013 at 8:05 AM
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Fiscal cliff bill heads to House

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate, in an 89-8 vote, passed a fiscal cliff deal Tuesday that would extend current tax rates for the middle class and delay automatic spending cuts.

The bill was approved in the early hours of 2013 after 10 minutes of floor debate and no scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, The Hill said.

The bill now heads to the House where Speaker John Boehner had said it would be brought to the floor for a vote.

The deal hammered out by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would permanently extend tax rates lowered during President George W. Bush's administration on individual income up to $400,000 and family income up to $450,000. The lower Bush-era tax rates for higher incomes would expire and return to the higher rates in effect during President Bill Clinton's administration.

It also would permanently set the estate tax rate at 40 percent, an increase from 35 percent, and would exempt inheritances of less than $5 million, The Hill said. It would postpone the automatic spending cuts for two months and offset the delay's $24 billion cost with a combination of spending cuts and new revenues. The measure also would extend unemployment benefits for one year without offsetting their impact on the deficit and prevent a hike in congressional pay.

Geithner notifies debt ceiling reached

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Monday notified Congress the United States has reached its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling.

"I am writing to notify you ... of my determination that, by reason of the statutory debt limit, I will be unable to invest fully the portion of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund not immediately required to pay beneficiaries," Geithner said in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and copied to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"For purposes of this statute, I have determined that a 'debt issuance suspension period' will begin on Monday, December 31, 2012, and last until February 28, 2013. With these determinations, the Treasury Department will suspend additional investments of amounts credited to, and redeem a portion of the investments held by, the CSRDF, as authorized by law."

Geithner noted he and his predecessors have declared "debt issuance suspension periods" during previous debt limit impasses.

U.S. wants Congress to compromise

CHICAGO, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- A clear majority of U.S. adults wants Congress to work with others to get things done and compromise if necessary, a survey indicates.

The independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago said Republicans and Democrats have somewhat different budget priorities, yet 79 percent of U.S. adults said they wanted their representatives in Washington to work with others to get things done.

The survey found:

-- 35.1 percent said it was OK to increase taxes to cut the federal budget deficit.

-- 28.5 percent said it was OK to cut spending on domestic programs to cut the budget deficit.

-- 51.5 percent said it was OK to cut spending on national defense to cut the budget deficit.

Thirty-five percent of respondents supported a general increase in taxes to cut the federal budget deficit, 60 percent favor increasing the income tax rates for households with more than $250,000 in annual income and 6 percent proposed to reduce the top tax rates.

More than 58 percent preferred federal government spending and holding down taxes to encourage job creation, even if it adds to the federal budget deficit, while 41 percent said it was more important to have the federal government cut the federal budget deficit, even if it meant increasing taxes and discouraging job creation.

Report: Afghan Taliban ex-minister released

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Pakistan released Afghan Taliban ex-minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi from custody following talks with Afghan officials on the peace process, the BBC reported.

Senior Afghan officials confirmed to the BBC Turabi and three other Taliban prisoners were released by Pakistan. Islamabad and the Afghan Peace Council have been discussing ways since November to move the peace process forward. Pakistan is seen as key to the success of any peace effort.

In a similar move earlier, Pakistan released 13 Afghan Taliban members in November, the report said. However, Pakistan is still holding Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former second in command of the Afghan Taliban, and several other Taliban prisoners.

The hope of the Afghan government is that the freed Taliban prisoners can help in convincing the insurgent group to come to the peace talks. NATO and U.S. troops are scheduled to end combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014 and hand over the security of the country to Afghan security forces.

Iran test fires missiles in Navy drill

TEHRAN, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Iran successfully test fired two missiles in the fifth day of a naval exercise to test the protection of its maritime borders, an Iranian admiral said.

Rear Adm. Amir Rastegari told Press TV Tuesday the test firing of the Qader short-range anti-ship cruise missile successfully hit and destroyed a mock enemy target. He also said the test-firing of the Noor long-range anti-ship cruise missile was also successful.

The Iranian navy said Monday it successfully test fired the Thunder or Ra'd surface-to-air missile capable of striking medium-range aerial targets.

Iran Friday embarked on a six-day naval drill east of the Straits of Hormuz in the Sea of Oman and north of the Indian Ocean.

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