The House on Thursday afternoon approved a rule allowing consideration later Thursday evening of Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" legislation on the fiscal cliff.
Members approved the rule in a mostly party line 219-197 vote, although 13 Republicans voted against it along with every voting Democrat. Republicans voting against the rule were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Andy Harris (Md.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Jeff Landry (La.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Ron Paul (Texas), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Joe Walsh (Ill.).
One bill covered under the rule would extend current tax rates on annual family income under $1 million, while a second bill would replace the sequester with a GOP plan that mostly spares defense cuts in January.
Passage of the rule will allow the House to consider both bills later in the day. GOP leaders quickly added the sequester replacement bill to the package on Wednesday, after it became clear that Republicans were not fond of only passing a bill that some say would result in a tax increase for people earning more than $1 million.
"I don't think that anyone is convinced that the bill that we're going to pass here is the one that's going to end up being the agreement, but it's very important in the negotiating process for work to proceed, and for institutions to stake their position," he said.
Tea Party Caucus member Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) indicated he would vote for the two bills.
"Some of my conservatives colleagues say that sparing some people these tax increases is tantamount to raising them on others," McClintock said on the House floor. "But a lifeguard who sees 10 swimmers drowning off his beach, if he can only save nine of them, that doesn't mean he's drowned the 10th one.
"And no lifeguard would be worth his pay if he said, well my principle is that nobody should drown off my beach, and therefore as a matter of principle, if I can't save them all, then I won't save any."
But Democrats recoiled against the sequester replacement bill in particular, arguing that it would spare defense cuts and find savings in the government by cutting needed social services. The bill is similar to a bill House Republicans supported back in May that cuts a new public health trust fund, reduces a Medicaid grant to states, and cut the Social Services Block Grant that funds Meals and Wheels and other programs.
House Ways & Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) called the GOP "deeply cynical" for imposing these cuts. And Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) railed against the process Republicans used to quickly bring up the sequester replacement bill.
"The process that brought us here has been equally shameful, more befitting a developing country than the greatest democracy on Earth," she said. "Last night we saw one of the greatest miscarriages of the democratic process in my time on the Rules Committee."
The debate in many ways showed just how far apart both sides are in reaching an agreement. Throughout the day, Senate Democratic leaders said they would not take up the House package, while House GOP leaders said they would not take up a Senate-passed bill keeping current tax levels on incomes $250,000 and below.
The back-and-forth in the House debate reflected that ongoing split, leaving some to wonder how the fight can ever be resolved.
"When folks back home ask me what's wrong with this place, I'm going to start playing them a clip of this debate," Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said.