12/16/2010 01:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tax Cut Deal Creates 2012 GOP Presidential Proxy Battle

While sitting legislators continue to fuss over a tax cut deal that looks headed for completion after passing overwhelmingly in the Senate this week, the field of potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates has been engaged in their own internal contest on the matter -- the first real one of its nature in the forthcoming election season.

There is little large-scale consensus among the likely contenders, besides the fact that they know they want to extend the Bush tax cuts for as long as possible.

A considerable bloc of possible 2012 contenders has come out in favor of the tax cut plan, effectively arguing that the two-year extension of tax cuts for high earners is the best deal that they'll be able to get, and a sufficient enough outcome that Republicans shouldn't risk the integrity of the entire compromise in search of something perfect.

On the other end, a contingent of their potential rivals has risen to combat the bill for extending the cuts for just two years and for the compromise's inclusion of a reauthorization of unemployment benefits. As HuffPost's Howard Fineman reports, these stances will help "curry favor with the anti-establishment right wing" and bolster candidates' "supply-side businessman [or businesswoman] bona fides."

Spared on none of the candidates is the fact that the tax structure most likely to advance will have the two-year extension of cuts for the rich expiring right around the 2012 election season, cementing its importance as a campaign issue.

Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has placed his weight behind the legislation, calling it a "much better deal than letting there be complete limbo about the tax rates," before taking a moment to criticize President Obama for the nature of his announcement of the package.

Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing governor of Minnesota, is behind the plan as well. "It's not the package I would have negotiated, but overall we need to make sure those taxes don't go up," said Pawlenty Tuesday on CNN.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has also voiced support for the plan, though Howard Fineman reports that he is "privately expressing growing concern about the measure."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gave a somewhat reluctant endorsement of the provision, saying that there was "plenty not to like," but admitting that passing the legislation was probably the best way forward for Republicans.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a proponent of the bill and one of the few potential 2012 candidates actually involved in the legislative process, gave a subtle jab in a floor address this week to his possible primary opponents standing against the plan, when he accused "sideline" spectators of criticizing the proposal because it was "politically expedient."

Thune's comment came the same day that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed for USA Today calling the tax plan a "disappointing agreement" and saying that Republicans were too hasty in springing for a deal that was much worse than one they might be able to fashion when they take majority control of the House next year.

Sen. Thune also recently countered another potential 2012 candidate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for her opposition to the tax blueprint. Palin had earlier taken to Twitter to blast the compromise, writing that the GOP's willingness to accept the $858 billion motion with only two years of cuts for the rich ran counter to their fight for "America's solvency."

Another legislator who will have a say in the bill's final passage, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) sees the plan differently than Thune. Pence announced Thursday that he wouldn't vote for the measure, soon to be voted on by the House, because the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans wouldn't spur job growth or investment.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also added his name to the list of detractors Wednesday, clarifying in an interview: "I would have voted no because I think it breaks faith with what the American public in very loud terms said in November, which is, 'We want you guys to cut spending.'"

The House will vote on the tax plan Thursday, and, if passed without changes, the measure will be on its way to spelling the soon-expiring Bush tax cuts.