HOUSE DEMOCRATS APPROVE MIDDLE-CLASS TAX CUT…. It took some awkward maneuvering, but House Democrats voted today to approve the tax-cut plan they’ve wanted all along.

The House on Thursday passed a permanent extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class. Democratic leaders are pointing to the vote as an example of their party’s efforts to help working Americans before Republicans take control of the chamber in January.

The bill, which would extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts on income less than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families, passed 234-188, with the backing of three Republicans and all but 20 Democrats.

The Republicans who opposed the bill were Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), Ron Paul (Texas) and John Duncan (Tenn.). Several Democrats who hail from wealthier districts as well as a number of Democrats who lost on Nov. 2 were among the defectors.

Some of those Blue Dogs who voted with Republicans already lost their re-election bids. They could have voted for the middle-class-first policy, but bucked their party anyway.

Regardless, it’s heartening to see the House do the right thing, even if everyone seems to fully realize that this proposal won’t pass the Senate. If the upper chamber still operated on majority rule — the way it used to work; the way it was designed to work — the debate would be incredibly easy. But since the Dems’ popular and reasonable tax-plan compromise can’t overcome a Republican filibuster, the tactical maneuvering will continue.

Regardless, there are now 168 House Republicans on the record on this issue — they were willing to kill breaks for the middle class because it wasn’t generous enough to the wealthiest people in the country.

What’s less heartening is the bizarre and arguably inexcusable error of timing. House Dems could have held this vote in September, positioning the party as champions of the middle class, and putting Republicans in an awkward spot shortly before the midterm elections. For reasons I still can’t understand, they chose not to.

So, what happens now? Pretty much everyone on the Hill seems to expect some sort of deal that allows a temporary extension of all Bush-era rates. The question remains as to what Dems can/will get in exchange.

Update: Here’s the roll call, if you’re interested. The more Dems try to hit the airwaves tonight, declaring, accurately, that 98% of the Republicans in the House tried to kill tax cuts for the middle class — becuase the cuts weren’t generous enough to the rich — the better off they’ll be.

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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.