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US House approves major tax break bill

[WASHINGTON] The US House of Representatives passed a sweeping package Thursday extending tax breaks and credits worth US$629 billion aimed at providing greater certainty for businesses and millions of Americans.

The bill includes 56 extensions, among them nearly two dozen that would be made permanent in part to help families still struggling in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Several Democrats, including party leaders in the House, opposed the bill, warning it is not paid for and will only deepen US debt.

Their opposition puts them at odds with the White House, which on Wednesday announced its support for the tax bill as well as a sprawling year-end federal spending bill that the House votes on Friday.

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The tax measure passed the House 318 votes to 109, with all but three Republicans in favour and most Democrats opposed.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where Republican and Democratic leaders have expressed their support.

"Americans no longer will have to worry each December if Congress will take action to extend certain tax relief measures that they've come to rely upon," House Ways and Means Commitee chairman Kevin Brady told colleagues before the vote.

"By making a number of temporary tax previsions permanent, this will deliver predictability, clarity and certainty for individuals taxpayers, as well as people managing businesses and trying to invest in the future."

House Speaker Paul Ryan has hailed the plan, reportedly in the works for at least 18 months, as a "huge win" for American families and the economy.

"This is one of the biggest steps for the rewrite of our tax code that we've made in many years," he said on Wednesday.

The measure would lock in extensions for the child tax credit that is used by millions of families, as well as tax credits applied to university tuition costs and, in an important step for small businesses, for research and development expenses.

But top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi fumed that the unpaid tax break extenders were "largely benefiting corporate America" and that the bill "undermines our ability to reduce the deficit" or pay down the national debt.

"It's a Trojan horse and we should not be fooled," she said.