Senate Republicans on Saturday voted against President Obama's plan to extend the Bush tax cuts to only the middle class in a pair of votes Democrats are seizing to paint the GOP as guardians of the rich.
The Senate voted 53-36 to extend all expiring tax cuts on individuals with incomes of less than $200,000 a year and married couples making less than $250,000 -- seven shy of the required 60 to advance.
The other proposal, which drew opposition from White House officials, would have renewed them for all tax filers with incomes of $1 million or less. That also failed in a 53-36 vote.
President Obama said he was "very disappointed" in the Senate's verdict.
"Those provisions should have passed," he said."It makes no sense to to hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage to permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans especially when those high-income tax cuts would cost an additional $700 billion that we don't have and would add to our deficit."
"But with so much at stake, today's votes cannot be the end of the discussion," he said. "It's absolutely essential to hardworking middle class families and to the economy to make sure their taxes don't go up on Jan. 1."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately slammed the political maneuvering by Democrats after the votes.
"According to the strange the logic of Democratic leaders in Congress, the best way to show middle class Americans that they care about creating jobs is to slam some of America's top job creators with a massive tax hike," he said on the Senate floor.
"Today's vote was an affront to the millions of Americans who are struggling to find work and a clear signal that Democrats in Congress still haven't got the message from the November elections," he said.
The Senate vote is expected to clear the way for negotiations between the White House and Republicans to resume on a bill to extend the tax cuts at all levels. Any agreement is also expected to renew expiring jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Also part of the discussions is a possible increase in the federal debt limit, which allows the government to continue to borrow to meet its financial obligations.
But Democrats, already eyeing the 2012 elections, wanted to use this showdown to weaken a resurgent GOP.
"All those people out there in the Tea Party that are angry about the economics of Washington, they really need to look at this," Sen. Claire McCaskill., D-Mo., said Friday as Democrats took turns pummeling Republicans.
"They need to pull back the curtain and realize that you've got a Republican Party that's not worried about the people in the Tea Party," said McCaskill, who will be on the ballot next year. "They're worried about people that can't decide which home to go to over the Christmas holidays."
In the weekly White House radio and Internet address, Vice President Biden, skipped lightly over Obama's willingness to negotiate with the GOP on the Bush-era tax breaks.
"We've got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month," he said. "If we don't, millions of middle-class families will see a big bite out of their paychecks starting January 1. And that's the last thing we should let happen."
"And the second thing we've got to do is extend unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs in a tough economy," Biden said.
Delivering the Republican address, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was sworn into office this week, said voters in the midterm elections demonstrated their distaste for any tax increases.
"The current leaders of Congress should not move forward with plans that were just rejected by the American people," he said. "These leaders should not raise taxes and risk another recession. Instead, Congress should reduce spending and prevent another tax hike on American taxpayers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.