McConnell breaks with Boehner, will fight middle-class tax breaks

MCCONNELL BREAKS WITH BOEHNER, WILL FIGHT MIDDLE-CLASS TAX BREAKS…. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is reluctantly willing to go along with President Obama’s tax-cut policy yesterday. Might the Senate GOP leadership go along? Not so much.

Senate Republicans will oppose any effort to renew soon-to-expire Bush administration tax cuts if upper income taxpayers are excluded from the reductions.

A spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that every Senate Republican has pledged to oppose President Barack Obama’s tax-cutting plan. […]

McConnell has said a bill extending the tax cuts for only low- and middle-income earners cannot pass the Senate. Forty-one senators can block a bill with a filibuster, but McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to say whether all 41 Republicans would support a filibuster.

I have no idea what the strategy will be from the Democratic leadership, but it doesn’t appear especially complicated. Step 1: bring a bill to the floor that would permanently lower the rates for families making $250,000 or less. Step 2: dare Republicans to kill it.

It’s a rather classic game of chicken. Republicans think they have the advantage, because they’re in a position to block lower rates for the middle-class unless Dems go along with breaks for the wealthy. Democrats think they have the advantage because their plan is more popular, and because they’ll blame Republicans for blocking middle-class tax cuts during an election season.

Republicans will say, “Give us everything we demand or tax rates will go up on everyone.” Democrats will say, “Um, voters? The other guys are holding Obama’s middle-class tax breaks hostage because they’re worried about millionaires and billionaires.”

The fact that McConnell’s spokesperson “declined to say whether all 41 Republicans would support a filibuster” was interesting. It may be because the Minority Leader’s office hasn’t taken the caucus’ temperature on this yet, and just can’t say for sure.

But it sets up an interesting showdown — are Republicans really prepared to filibuster middle-class tax breaks shortly before voters head to the polls? I know plenty of congressional Dems are afraid of this fight, but they should be approaching the debate with more confidence than trepidation.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.