US Congress passes fiscal cliff bill; President to sign into law

Had not passed, fiscal cliff would have resulted in increased tax rates for more than 98% of Americans

Washington: Overcoming Republican resistance, the US House of Representatives late Tuesday night passed the "fiscal cliff" bill by 257 to 167 votes, ending a dramatic New Year's Day showdown over income taxes and deep federal spending cuts, reports PTI.


The bill, which was passed by the Senate (89 to 8 votes) in the wee hours of the New Year, would now go to the White House for US President Barack Obama to sign into law, which would end months of anxious moments with regard to fiscal cliff.


Had not passed, fiscal cliff would have resulted in increased tax rates for more than 98% of Americans.


The passage of the legislation by the Republican-majority House was not before some anxious moments during the day, when some of the Republican leaders were mulling bringing amendment to the bill passed by the Senate, but gave up as they were unable to muster enough support.


The Senate bill in itself was a result of the days of negotiations between the Democrats, Republicans and the White House and required the services of US Vice President Joe Biden.


"The House passage of the Senate's bipartisan legislation is a victory for the middle class," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


"Our action permanently extends the middle class tax cut and promotes economic growth, while asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. It extends unemployment insurance for those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own," she said.


"With the passage of this measure, we strengthen the principle that we must have equal parts revenue and spending cuts as we work to reduce our deficit.


"We strengthen our economy through investments in innovation, tax credits for education, and tax breaks to spur the technologies of the future, including renewable energy," Pelosi said. .


"Tonight's progress is not only a victory for the middle class but for the President and Vice President who campaigned on protecting the middle class and kept their promise to the American people," Pelosi said in a statement.


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel in a statement said the bill protects the middle class from a huge tax increase.


"For the first time in more than 20 years, Congress has acted to protect tax cuts for the middle class while asking millionaires to pay their fair share," he said.


"The middle class deserves solutions instead of ideology.


While President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Senate and House Democrats and even Senate Republicans were working to get to yes, the Tea Party Republicans seemed insistent on finding a way to no," he said.


The legislation as passed by the Congress besides permanently extending the Bush-era income tax rates on individual income up to $400,000 and family income up to $450,000, also sets permanently the estate tax rate at 40%, up from 35%, and exempts inheritances below $5 million.


In addition to an extension of unemployment benefits for one year, it extends 2009 stimulus provisions including the earned income tax credit, child tax credit and college tax credit for five years.


The bill postpones the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester for two months and offsets the $24 billion cost of the delay with a mix of spending cuts and new revenues.


Earlier the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a report, had warned that fiscal cliff could dampen economic growth by 0.5%. That could tip the US economy into a recession and driving unemployment from its current 7.7% back over nine%, the non-partisan CBO estimated.


OBC cuts interest rate on home loans by 0.1%

Home loans from Oriental Bank of Commerce will now be available at 10.4% with an EMI of as low as Rs937 per lakh

New Delhi: State-owned Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) has reduced interest rate on home loans of up to Rs30 lakh by 0.1%, reports PTI.


As a New Year gift to customers, home loans will now be available 10.40% with an equated monthly instalment (EMI) of as low as Rs937 per lakh, OBC said in a statement.


The base rate or the minimum lending rate of the bank is also 10.4%.


Besides, the bank has also slashed margin for home loans above Rs20 lakh to 20%, it added. For loans below Rs20 lakh, margin will be 15%.


On the deposit side, the bank has waived off penalty on premature withdrawal on its fixed deposit schemes for all maturities.


Earlier this week, private sector HDFC Bank slashed its benchmark lending rates by 0.1%.


The base rate the bank was reduced to 9.7% from 9.8%. At the same time, the benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) of the country’s second largest private bank was also slashed by similar margin to 18.2%.


Air India cancels Singapore flight, passengers stranded at Mumbai

Air India's Mumbai-Singapore flight AI342 with 260 passengers on board was cancelled due to non-availability of commander

Mumbai: As many as 260 passengers of a Singapore-bound Air India flight from Mumbai were stranded after the airline cancelled it citing non-availability of cockpit crew, reports PTI.


The flight, which was scheduled to take-off at 0005 hours Wednesday, is now expected to depart for its destination tonight, an Air India spokesperson said.


"The Mumbai-Singapore flight AI342 with 260 passengers on board was cancelled due to non-availability of commander. The flight will now leave for Singapore at midnight today," the spokesperson said.


Air India has provided hotel and other facilities to the stranded passengers, the airline said, adding that some of the passengers have been booked on other flights.


The airline is facing acute shortage of pilots, particularly commanders, as a good number of them have quit the carrier for better prospects.


Late last month, Air India Mumbai-Riyadh flight was delayed by 20 hours, leading to chaos at the city airport. The airline had then attributed the inordinate delay to flight crew shortage.


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