Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-NJ, said Thursday that Democrats intend to return to Washington in September to craft legislation that extends some of the tax cuts that President Bush instituted in 2001 and 2003, particularly those that they say benefit the middle class, though he acknowledged a compromise may be necessary on extending the top two tax rates to satisfy a handful of members in the caucus.
"There is some suggestion that maybe you extend the top tax rates for a year in this economic climate," Menendez said, though he personally favors extending only the middle class provisions, saying, "Now how you pay for that is the key. Do you pay for that with the top rates? Or do you extend the top rates for a year and largely pay for it? I think there's room there to ultimately be able to figure out what we want."
A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide confirmed the compromise is a "viable option," though the aide added, "Right now, it looks like a great majority of the caucus just wants to extend the middle class cuts."
When asked if it would matter that the caucus was not unified ahead of what many expect to be a contentious midterm election, particularly when Republicans plan to blast Democrats for raising taxes, the aide said it likely would not.
The Obama Administration has said it supports extending the tax cuts for lower and middle class Americans, while allowing the reduction in the top two brackets to expire.
The short term extension of the top Bush tax cuts is an idea first floated by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, who suggested an 18-24 month time frame, "until we're more solidly out of the recession."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, who joined Menendez in a briefing for reporters, said he supports extending some of the Bush tax cuts "but not for the super highly-paid CEO's." Whitehouse agreed with Menendez that individuals making less than $200,000 annually and families making less than $250,000 should continue to receive a break.
The senator said it would emphasize his party's main message this summer to voters, "Who's side are you on?" Democrats, both senators said, intend to highlight a laundry list of negatives against Republicans, including what they say are votes for Big Oil, against taxpayers and small businesses, and the list went on.
Menendez said October would be "a time and an opportunity to show a clear, sharp contrast," with the campaign chairman highlighting several specific races, like the Nevada Senate race in which the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is running ahead of his opponent, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.
But one controversial topic Democrats do not plan to touch, Menendez said: immigration.
The chairman made it clear that is not part of the Democrats' "who's side are you on?" dialogue. "What we're going to spend our time doing is talking about what families around the kitchen table want to talk about. And the average family around the kitchen table wants to talk about: where's this economy going? How do I preserve or get a job? Who's standing on my side to make those jobs happen verses offshoring them overseas?...That's what matters."
The chairman, whose parents were Cuban, said he "may have a great interest" in immigration, "but we're going to talk about what constituents want to talk about. And what they want to talk about is their lives, their livelihood, their future, and we believe we are a party that has been working to improve their lives."
"At the end of the day," Menendez concluded, "We're going to have a healthy August to make a clear question, ‘Who's side are you on?' And we'll go into October with a very clear contrast with all of these races."