HOW TO CAPITALIZE ON GOP TAX POLICY OBSTINACY…. As far as Republican leaders on the Hill are concerned, a permanent tax break for the middle class is simply out of the question unless Dems agree to help millionaires and billionaires.

This is true in the Senate

Republicans won’t agree to allow a split in votes to extend expiring tax cuts, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

McConnell suggested that any vote to extend the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year were an all-or-nothing proposition, and that Republicans wouldn’t agree to a separate vote on the extension of tax cuts for the highest income bracket.

“There’s only one thing that’s acceptable and that’s to not raise taxes on anyone,” McConnell said on conservative talker Sean Hannity’s radio show. “We’re not interested in bifurcating it.”

…and it’s true in the House.

The Republicans’ top tax guy in the House threatened in the clearest possible terms today that he and the rest of the GOP would vote to block any tax cut for the middle class during the lame duck session unless tax cuts for the wealthy are extended for the same period of time.

In a policy speech at the business-friendly Tax Council today, incoming Ways and Means Committee chairman David Camp called the Democratic plan for tax cuts — a permanent tax cut extension for all income up to $200,000, and a temporary extension for income above that level — “a terrible idea and a total nonstarter.”

In other words, nothing has changed. Dems wanted permanent breaks for the middle class, and Republicans are holding them hostage — give us breaks for the wealthy, they say, or we’ll kill the whole deal.

The more obstinacy from Republicans, the better this should be for Democrats. We’re talking about aggressive, unyielding GOP opposition to middle-class tax cuts. If Republicans are intent on killing them, why on earth would Dems try to stop them?

As we talked about the other day, this should be pretty easy: bring middle-class tax cuts to the floor and dare Republicans to kill them. If the GOP caves, Dems get the policy they want. If the GOP kills the tax-cut package, Clinton-era rates return for everyone, which is probably the policy Dems should want anyway, and the headlines read, “Republicans kill tax cut compromise; higher rates kick in Jan. 1.”

I’ve never seen a party so afraid of doing the obvious, popular thing that puts their rivals on the defensive. It’s a gift-wrapped present that Dems seem afraid to open.

For his part, President Obama spoke to the Democratic leadership yesterday about the tax debate, which was intended to “get Democrats moving in the same direction after a week of seemingly conflicting messages.” It was a private discussion, but according to accounts, the president reiterated his support for a permanent extension of lower rates “only for the middle class.”

It’s just scuttlebutt, but I also heard rumors yesterday that some Dems have a back-up plan in mind: if the party can hold firm on the middle-class-first policy and Republicans kill it, the White House can come back in January with a new package of “Obama tax cuts” that specifically target those families making $250,000 or less. Something to keep an eye on.

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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.