To sweeten the deal for conservatives who wanted steeper spending cuts in exchange for a tax hike, GOP leaders brought a second bill to the floor — a proposal to shift the automatic cuts due on Jan. 2 from both defense and domestic programs to only domestic ones.
The House approved it, 215 to 209, but with 21 Republicans opposed — a signal that Boehner's plan was in trouble.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said he opposed the Ryan bill and Plan B because the proposals failed to make tough budget cuts.
"It's kind of like Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons: 'I'll be glad to pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today,'" Broun said. "And I'm not going to give the hamburger anymore."
Boehner's Plan B would have continued most of the existing tax rates, first approved under President George W. Bush, that would otherwise expire at the end of this year, while allowing taxes to rise on household income above $1 million. The top 35% rate would have increased to 39.6%, and the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends would have risen to 20% for earners making more than $1 million annually.
The Boehner bill excluded other expiring provisions, including college and child tax credits, first approved under Obama in 2009. That meant that Plan B would have raised taxes on low- and moderate-income households that claim those credits.
The House recessed for the holidays, but members were told to be ready to return on 48 hours' notice. The Senate was poised to recess Friday, returning after Christmas.
Staff writers Colby Itkowitz in Washington and Joe Bel Bruno in Los Angeles contributed to this report.