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House Clears Way for Floor Vote on Health Care Law Repeal

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Rep. Pete Sessions attends the House Rules Committee meeting regarding legislation that would repeal the health care overhaul on Capitol Hill Jan. 6. (AP)

The House of Representatives has cleared the way to hold a vote next week on repealing the health care overhaul, while at the same time dealing with a parliamentary snag over the credentials of two GOP lawmakers.  

In a test vote Friday, the House formally approved the rules for debate on the health law repeal. The procedural measure passed largely along party lines on a 236-181 vote. 

"Today we are taking the first step in fulfilling a key promise to the American people," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., who led the GOP side in the debate. "We are setting in motion a process to repeal President Obama's job-killing health care bill and replace it with real solutions."

The move sets up a rhetorical battle ahead of a full vote in the House Wednesday. That vote is seen as largely symbolic, since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to block it in the Senate -- and President Obama would surely veto anything of the sort that clears Congress. 

But the repeal, one of the Republican House majority's first orders of business, has generated heated debate in Washington all the same. Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado said ahead of Friday's test vote that despite the bill's brevity -- it's only two pages -- it will "probably be the biggest bill we'll vote on this Congress." 

Democrats slammed the GOP after a Congressional Budget Office report on Thursday estimated that the repeal would add $230 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Friday saying the repeal would hurt the economy, hurt the budget and "put insurance companies back in charge of the health of the American people." 

Democrats also charged that Republicans violated their own transparency pledge by bringing the repeal to the floor without committee hearings. 

But Republicans countered that the health care legislation was debated extensively in the last Congress and that the party's large gains in November gives them a mandate to target the controversial package. The party dismissed the CBO figure and pledged to push forward, eventually with the goal of creating a new health care package to replace it. 

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that his party wants to repeal the law because it's getting in the way of job creation. 

But as the House battles anew over the health care bill, lawmakers were also engaged in a peculiar tiff on the sidelines over whether two GOP lawmakers were actually bona fide members of Congress earlier this week. The dispute centered on Reps. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., who ducked out of the swearing-in ceremony in the House Wednesday. This might have been quietly corrected if not for the fact that Republicans led a ceremonial reading of the U.S. Constitution on the House floor Thursday. That opened the door to charges of hypocrisy. 

"This is the day we read the Constitution. We don't want to be in violation of that," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee. The Rules Committee adjourned abruptly Thursday after realizing the problem. Slaughter called for the committee, of which Sessions and Fitzpatrick are members, to start over on Friday. 

But Republicans instead attached a provision to the health care test vote meant to resolve the conundrum. The resolution, approved on a 257-159 vote, invalidated the roll-call votes both lawmakers made before realizing the error, while counting as legitimate all other actions the members took. 

Both members were formally sworn in Thursday afternoon. Fitzpatrick said this was done out of an "abundance of caution." Both he and Sessions attempted to take the oath Wednesday in front of a television in the Capitol Visitor Center, but that didn't satisfy some lawmakers. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram and John Brandt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.