Republicans pounced on them with a vengeance. "If we leave here this week and adjourn for the election without preventing these tax increases on the American people, it will be the most irresponsible thing that I have seen since I've been in Washington, D.C.," said House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. Democratic leaders, President Obama and White House senior advisers like David Axelrod are blaming inaction on the tax cut issue on the Republicans. In fact, the Democrats' decision to postpone any vote is the result of growing opposition from within their own party.
The real story behind the Democrats' retreat, downplayed or all but ignored by the national news media, is that nearly three dozen House Democrats have signed a letter to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urging them to extend the tax cuts until the economy recovers.
"In recent weeks, we have heard from a diverse spectrum of economists, small business owners and families who have voiced concerns that raising any taxes right now could negatively impact economic growth. Given the continued fragility of our economy and slow pace of recovery, we share their concerns," these Democrats said.
In the Senate, nearly half a dozen Democrats also want the tax cuts extended or have serious reservations about raising taxes on small businesses and investors struggling in a downbeat economy.
Other senators privately warned Reid that any vote now to raise tax rates would further endanger vulnerable Democrats who are in tight races.
Democrats appear destined to lose control of the House this year, while Senate Democrats could lose at least eight seats and possibly their majority. Pelosi and Reid, who is in a dead heat in his own re-election bid, heard the message and pulled the plug.
But the spectacle of Democrats fleeing Washington this week to save their own political hide, while the American economy struggles with the uncertainty they have left behind, will likely only worsen the majority's midterm losses this fall.
More than the top income tax rate is at stake in the Democrats' class warfare game playing. Capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, estate taxes and the Alternative Minimum tax will all rise significantly at the end of this year if the Bush cuts are not extended.
Barack Obama and most Democrats want these taxes raised, no matter how much harm that they will inflict on the economy, to pay for their big spending plans to enlarge government and expand the welfare state. Only one thing can stop them: the voters.