House Republicans should pass a permanent extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts this year, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Wednesday, keeping the issue of taxes at the forefront of the 2012 presidential campaign.

In a thinly veiled pitch toward potential Republican presidential primary voters, Gingrich pushed GOP lawmakers to act to extend the cuts beyond 2012.

"[T]this year the House Republican majority should pass a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts," Gingrich wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Congress acted last December on a compromise proposal by President Obama that resulted in a two-year extension, across all income brackets, of the expiring 2001 tax cuts passed by President Bush. Obama had previously favored allowing the cuts' expiration for the top income bracket, but ultimately relented after Republican victories in the midterm elections.

The Obama compromise split many of the possible Republican presidential candidates, some of whom urged Republicans in Congress to vote down the plan precisely because it only extended tax cuts for two years, and because it was attached to a $56 billion extension in unemployment benefits, spending for which was not offset by other cuts.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed decrying the agreement, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called it a "lousy deal" that should be revisited by the new Congress.

Gingrich at the time said he supported the deal, and was joined in his support by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. They, like congressional GOP leaders, defended the deal as the best attainable option.

Perhaps most significantly, Gingrich's op-ed on Wednesday is a reminder of how central the issue could be to the 2012 elections.

The tax-cut deal installed by lawmakers in December would expire at the end of 2012, putting the debate over the Bush tax cuts squarely before voters as they decide between Obama and his eventual Republican competitor.

Democrats, led by Obama, argue that extending the tax cuts permanently would blow a huge hole in the deficit — to the tune of over $700 billion in the next decade for extending the tax cuts for top earners alone.

There is one way that debate could end up being short-circuited, though. Both Republicans and Democrats have discussed the possibility of corporate and personal income tax reform as part of a broader deficit-reduction plan. Such a deal could revamp the tax code after 2012 and neuter the expiring tax cuts as a hot political issue.