Postponed vote on Bush tax cuts could work against Dems

But if Republicans win the Senate races in Illinois, Delaware and West Virginia, the new members could be sworn in immediately following the elections, instead of January, because the lawmakers who currently occupy those seats were appointed with terms ending after Nov. 2.

This means Democrats could have a harder time in November to pass legislation that extends the middle-class tax cuts while allowing tax breaks for the wealthy to expire on schedule at the end of the year.

Republican leaders in both chambers have repeatedly stated that a tax increase on anyone while the economy is weak would hinder recovery efforts. Several rank-and-file Democrats also support this position.

The Senate has already announced it will not take up the Bush tax cuts until after the election. But there are mixed signals in the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Sunday said a vote before the election was doubtful. Meanwhile, on the very same day, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said a vote could happen next week.

If the House does act on the tax cuts in the coming days, it would likely be through a procedural maneuver called "under suspension of the rules."

Bills voted on in this manner are usually non-controversial, like the naming of a post office, and require two-thirds of all members to support them.

If Democratic leaders put forward a bill that only extends the middle-class tax cuts — something they have vowed several times to do — a vote on the Bush tax cuts will be anything but non-controversial. It is also unclear if they will have the two-thirds support they need to pass the legislation.