WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats signaled their tax vote was as much about politics as policy Wednesday by saying it sets them up for November, and even managed to link it to the White House race by invoking Mitt Romney's pet dog Seamus.
The passage of the MIddle Class Tax Cut Act means the Senate has offered legislation that preserves the Bush-era tax rates on income under $250,000 for couples, and $200,000 for individuals. That leaves the decision on how to proceed in the hans of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has steadfastly said the rates must be extended for all, including the top 2 percent of earners.
Since the Senate has acted, Democrats argued that the responsible thing to do was pass their bill, and argue about cuts for the wealthy separately. To not do so would be irresponsible, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) argued, akin to Mitt Romney's infamous family vacation in which he crated the family pet on the roof of the car for a drive to Canada.
Boehner "can either pass this bill which delivers certainty to middle class tax payers... or he can step on the gas, head towards that fiscal cliff and strap the American people -- just like a dog we know -- to the top of his car," Murray said soon after the bill passed.
By "fiscal cliff," she meant the looming automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending required by last summer's debt and budget deals, combined with the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, all of which happens at the end of 2012.
Democrats, by offering "certainty" to the middle class, think Republicans will have a difficult time in the fall if they don't do likewise.
"The president will now wield the power of the bully pulpit," said Sen. Chuck Schumer. "This will be a positive day for November, and more importantly for the future of the middle class."
"We feel pretty confident where we are with our Senate races and our presidential election," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Schumer predicted that with the middle class cuts severed from the top earners, the GOP would have some "serious explaining to do" if they hold out for cuts for all.
"For the first time, we got a majority vote in the Senate to help the middle class with tax breaks without having to tie them to tax breaks for the wealthiest among us," Schumer said. "We have set the debate so that we have the high ground. The rest will all flow from it ... The water will now flow in our direction, not in theirs."
Nevertheless, Republican campaigns quickly answered the vote by blasting out press releases making their case -- that the Democrats would allow taxes to go up on 1 million small businesses.
“Liberal Bill Nelson has never met a tax hike that he didn’t like and once again, standing behind President Obama was more important for Sen. Nelson than standing up for Florida farmers and small business owners,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said in one of many similar statements targeting specific races.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.