Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third highest-ranking Democrat in the chamber, broached a subject party officials are generally inclined to ignore: the notion of Republican economic “sabotage.” Today, he went a little further.

After leading Republicans signaled their opposition to their own idea for a business payroll tax break, Schumer told reporters last Wednesday, “If they oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that helps create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

This morning, Schumer went from “almost” wondering about GOP motivations to doing so rather explicitly.

Republicans may be slowing the recovery on purpose to hurt President Obama’s reelection chances in 2012, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a speech on Thursday.

The speech made explicit a message Democrats have been hinting at for weeks: Republicans are hurting the recovery with their focus on spending cuts, and it may be an attempt to slow “down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012.”

“[W]e need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable question — are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012?” Schumer said. “Sen. McConnell made it clear last October that his number one priority, above everything else, is to defeat President Obama. And now it is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan — it has a double-benefit for Republicans: it is ideologically tidy and it undermines the economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012.”

I like this for a couple of reasons. The first is that Schumer’s choice of words is practically identical to my post, right down to the McConnell quote and the “uncomfortable question” phrase.

The second is that it’s an entirely defensible and legitimate question under the circumstances, and the only way to have a larger discussion about whether Republicans would actually hurt the country on purpose for purely partisan reasons is for prominent officials to raise the question. Kudos to Schumer for having the guts to do just that.

I’d also note that Schumer made these highly provocative remarks, and as best as I can tell, has faced no pushback whatsoever. One of Congress’ most prominent Democrats has effectively accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the nation’s economy, and Republican officials aren’t expressing any outrage, and aren’t even calling for an apology. No shrieks, no cries, no apoplexy.

And why not? Because to do so would be to engage in the very debate the GOP is desperate to avoid.

The lesson for congressional Democrats, then, is to follow Schumer’s lead.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.