If the defense authorization bill stalls out today, as expected, the Senate could move directly to taxes. Dick Durbin vowed that the Senate would work on the Obama tax plan in this work period, and he said that Democrats have the upper hand in that debate in his chamber:

Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Durbin said a Senate vote to extend the middle class portion of the Bush tax cuts is likely to occur within “the next two weeks.” [...]

He signalled clearly that any attempt to pass the full Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthy, would be blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

Durbin said he is very confident there are not 60 votes in the Senate to extend the entire Bush tax cut regime.

As a procedural matter, it’s easier to draw the contrast between the two parties on the issue of taxes in the Senate right now, and I expect them to do that. There’s evidence that it helps on the campaign trail. For instance, Pat Toomey, with a small lead in Pennsylvania, gets tied up in knots trying to reconcile budget hawkery with tax cuts for millionaires and multinational corporations:

Mr. Toomey consistently criticizes the Obama administration, and, by extension, his opponent, for policies that have increased the nation’s deficit. But to the Republican, some deficit-boosting policies are more tolerable than others, a view reflected in the candidates’ clash on the tax cuts of the Bush era.

Those cuts are due to expire next year. Like the Obama administration, Mr. Sestak favors rescinding them for taxpayers making more than $250,000 a year, reverting to the top marginal rates that were in effect during the Clinton administration, while preserving the lowered rates for other taxpayers.

Mr. Toomey is adamantly against that proposal. Beyond his general preference for lower taxes, he argues that it would further harm the limping economy to raise taxes in the foreseeable future. While that position might seem to be at odds with his preaching of the evil of deficits, Mr. Toomey’s constant antidote to deficits is to reduce spending rather than increase revenue.

Taxes were also the subject of the Democrat’s first television assault against his opponent. The ad featured a clip of a 2007 talk show appearance in which Mr. Toomey called for the abolition of corporate taxes.

Responding to the ad, the Toomey campaign soft-pedaled that position, saying that Mr. Toomey was expressing a general policy preference. His campaign told the Post-Gazette that, “Pat understands that a zero tax rate on businesses is impractical for a host of reasons.”

But Mr. Toomey’s book makes clear his overall preference for easing the tax burden on corporations, a step that he believes would lead to greater employment and economic growth.

Consistency isn’t really their strong suit and I’m not sure the degree to which it will matter. But as a populist talking point, putting your opponent on the side of the ultra-wealthy doesn’t hurt.

Durbin, a member of the deficit commission, said something else on that Bloomberg appearance which I found pretty interesting.

Congress shouldn’t make cutting the federal deficit a greater priority than creating jobs until the U.S. unemployment rate falls to 9 percent or lower for at least half a year, the second-ranking Senate Democrat said in an interview.

“If we have two or three quarters of 9 percent or less” then Congress can “breathe a sigh of relief” and “move forward on what we need to do on this deficit,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.

In addition to pointing out the absurdity of the deficit peacocks, Durbin says the correct thing – the deficit isn’t the issue right now, and shouldn’t be until unemployment lowers well below that 9% benchmark, in my view. He should go further and argue that any budget savings from allowing high-end tax cuts to expire should be reinvested in job creation measures.