House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was his preference to address expiring tax cuts before the election, but acknowledged that it could slip until after the elections.
Hoyer suggested on Tuesday he agreed with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said this weekend that she hopes that Congress will act to extend most of the tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year before the election, while letting income taxes on the highest earners tick upward.
"The timing on that, we may well consider that over the next four weeks from September 14 to October 8," Hoyer said of the expiring tax cuts during a conference call to promote Democrats' economic stewardship during the August recess.
Hoyer noted, though, that "it's also possible that we won't reach agreement on how to proceed" on the tax cuts, leaving the possibly politically bruising debate until the lame-duck Congress between the elections and when a new Congress is sworn in next January.
Democratic leaders and President Obama have pushed for extending the bulk of the tax cuts, but have said they would like to see taxes spring upward for individuals making more than $200,000 per year, and households earning more than $250,000 in a year.
Hoyer said that there was a "general consensus" among congressional Democrats on letting the high-end taxes appreciate, and said that the House didn't necessarily feel as though it had to wait to see how the Senate would proceed before acting on its own.
Republicans have made the taxes a major part of their election message, arguing that the increased taxes would disproportionately harm small-business owners who treat their company's income as their own. The pressure from the GOP on taxes could make for an even tougher time for vulnerable incumbent Democrats, who might not wish to be seen as raising any taxes in the middle of a recession.
"As if raising taxes on small businesses at the height of an economic recession isn’t enough, Leader Hoyer has now confirmed the Democrats’ secret plan to make them even more offensive to American families," said Paul Lindsey, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). "If these tax hikes are as much a ‘winning issue’ as Democrats say they are, why do they have to sidestep the will of voters in order to pass them?"
Updated 5:13 p.m.