The Senate rejected the Republican proposal for extending the Bush-era tax rates in a straight up-or-down vote Wednesday.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGun proposal picks up GOP support Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD MORE (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) joined Democrats in voting against the GOP plan, which would have extended the Bush-era tax rates and other current tax policies. Brown faces a difficult reelection battle this fall. 

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Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (Nev.) and Democrats had only one defection — Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.). Like Brown, Pryor faces a tough reelection bid. 

Vice President Biden made a rare appearance as the Senate's presiding officer in case his tie-breaking vote was needed to help Democrats pass their own tax plan in a subsequent vote. The Democratic plan would extend only the Bush-era rates on families with income up to $250,000.

Senate leadership had struck a deal earlier in the day to hold two up-or-down votes on both the Republican tax plan, the Tax Hike Prevention Act, and the Democrats’ Middle Class Tax Cut Act.

Democrats said the Republican plan, S. 3413, just protected the wealthiest Americans, while Republicans argued the Democratic plan represented a tax hike on some households.

“The Senate Democrat plan, which raises taxes on a million small-business owners at a moment when we’re counting on them to create jobs, raises taxes on thousands of family farmers and small-business owners grieving the loss of a loved one, leaves a middle-class tax hike in place, and reforms nothing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday.

Despite Republican objections, the Democrats’ S. 3412 is expected to pass by a narrow margin, but will carry little weight since tax bills have to originate in the House and House Republicans are unlikely to accept the Democrats’ bill.

“Republicans are interested in protecting millionaires and billionaires from paying one penny more,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayChildren’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Schumer calls for attaching ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance MORE (D-Wash.) said Tuesday. “Disagreement on tax cuts for the rich should not stop tax cuts for the middle class … but Republicans care about extending those tax cuts for the rich above all else.”

The Democrats’ bill also includes extensions of the earned-income tax credit, child tax credit and opportunity tax credit for college tuition.

The Republican-controlled House will vote on tax measures next week and is likely to pass a similar version to the Senate GOP’s bill. The Senate rejecting that measure sends a clear message to the House that it can’t pass in both chambers, leaving the ball in the House’s court as to whether they are willing to extend tax breaks for just the middle class.

McConnell on Wednesday morning agreed to holding the two up-or-down votes on the competing tax proposals. He said the arrangement would force vulnerable Democratic senators to vote on the merits of each plan and not hide behind procedural votes. 

“By setting these votes at the 50-vote threshold, nobody on the other side can hide behind a procedural vote while leaving their views on the actual bill itself a mystery, a simple mystery to the people who sent them here,” McConnell said Wednesday morning.

The tax votes are only the first salvo in an election year debate about how to avoid the impending fiscal cliff of tax increases and automatic spending cuts agreed to in last year’s debt-ceiling deal.