Who'd have bet on this outcome? In 2009, Democrats didn't focus on tax reform, and didn't hold a vote to extend Bush tax cuts on the lower marginal rates. Same story for most of 2010. At the end of that year, they got boxed into a full extension of all tax cuts. The box was being built around them for the last few weeks, as Republicans got cozy with the "Democrats will hike taxes on job creators" argument.
And then the Democrats got an up-or-down vote on their tax plan and won. Brian Beutler explains:
For the purposes of the current campaign, Senate Democrats’ actions Wednesday reinforce some of Obama’s key arguments to voters: that wealthier Americans should contribute more than they do to financing the country’s infrastructure, safety net and other programs; and that Republicans would rather block tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the middle class than see tax cuts benefiting only the country’s highest income earners expire.
Yes, it's a furthering of the "hostage" argument. The White House said so when it tweeted (of course) a response to the vote from the president: "House Republicans are now the only people left in Washington holding hostage the #MiddleClassTaxCuts for 98% of Americans." Barack Obama camapigned on this tax extension. Now he can run on it again.
Will it work? Last week a Republican strategist heard me blather about how consistent Obama had been on taxes, and stopped me short. Sure, Obama had promised a net tax cut in 2008, and he'd won. But when was the last time a Democrat campaigned on a tax increase, on any group? Didn't Republicans beat Democrats senseless with this in 2010?
I thought the strategist misremembered 2010. Democrats chickened out, bumbled, and failed to pass any tax extension. That allowed Republicans to say that everybody's taxes would go up at the start of 2011. Democrats have temporarily short-circuited that argument.