THEY DON’T WANT TO HOLD THE DAMN VOTES…. As legislative strategies go, this one seemed pretty easy. President Obama’s tax policy — the one he ran on in 2008; the one polls find to be popular — wants to give a tax break to the middle class, while letting top rates for the wealthy return to their Clinton-era levels. Republicans have threatened to hold that proposal hostage unless Dems agree to extend tax breaks to millionaires.

The smart move for Democrats, it seems, would be to hold a vote on Obama’s proposed middle-class tax breaks — before, you know, the election — and dare Republicans to reject it.

But Senate Dems apparently don’t want to do the smart thing

Democratic aide told TPM today there won’t be a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts in the upper chamber before the November election, a blow to party leaders and President Obama who believed this would have been a winning issue. […]

The aide said it’s already a winning message without a vote since Obama and Democrats have framed the debate as the Republicans being for the rich and Democrats wanting to help the middle class. Others have made similar arguments, but several lawmakers have said they think a vote is the only way to score a political victory. The senior aide doesn’t think so.

“We have a winning message now, why muddy it up with a failed vote, because, of course, Republicans are going to block everything,” the aide said.

…and House Dems aren’t inclined to do the smart thing, either.

If the Senate’s decision not to address the Bush tax cuts until after the election is any indication, then the game is over. After a Democratic caucus meeting this morning — but before the news broke on the Senate side — there was still no answer to the question of the week: Will the House vote on President Obama’s plan to extend middle-income tax cuts? Key legislators were mum, and aides pessimistic, that the House will do what Speaker Pelosi wants to do: force a vote on tax legislation that will put Republicans on the record backing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And with House Democratic leaders still insisting that they will follow the Senate’s lead, it seems more and more likely that they too will drop the tax cut issue for now.

These reports, obviously, aren’t official announcements, so I suppose there’s still a chance Democrats will realize they’re making a mistake, but all available evidence suggests both the House and the Senate will push the tax debate off until after the midterms.

In other words, Democrats could vote for a middle-class tax cut before an election in which they’re likely to do very poorly, but they’re choosing not to, preferring to have the vote after the election.

I was especially intrigued by the senior Democratic Senate aide: “We have a winning message now, why muddy it up with a failed vote, because, of course, Republicans are going to block everything.”

I think I know what he/she means — that Dems have already positioned themselves as champions of the middle class, and losing yet another vote would be disheartening — but it’s still a deeply flawed strategy. Holding a vote gets everyone on the record; allows Dems to boast of their votes on middle-class tax cuts; and offers Dems a campaign cudgel to use against Republicans who hold those cuts hostage.

It’s an opportunity the majority is inexplicably willing to let slip by.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.