If Democrats plan to paint the GOP as extreme this year on a national level by tying them to the Bush tax cuts for higher-income earners, they have a problem.  Their own House members have begun to split from the party message and the White House on this issue, as Greg Sargent reports for the Washington Post.  In fact, Rep. Jim Himes directly contradicted Barack Obama’s allegation that the GOP was looking out for the rich in demanding an extension for all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts by scoffing at the notion that a $250,000 income makes one “rich”:

* Rep Jim Himes of Conneticut says he supports a termporary extension, because earning $250,000 annually “does not make you really rich.”

* Rep Bobby Bright of Alabama came out against ending the tax cuts, because “a vast majority of my constituents … don’t believe in tax increases on anybody at this point in time.”

* Rep Ron Klein of Florida wants a one year extension of the tax cuts, including those for the rich, because “right now, our top economic priority has to be job creation.”

* Rep Gerry Connolly of Virginia says the tax cuts should remain because the recovery remains “fragile.”

* Rep Gary Peters of Michigan wants the cuts to continue lest we “jeopardize economic recovery.”

* Rep Harry Mitchell of Arizona says he “strongly” opposes letting the tax cuts lapse because “we need to encourage investment, not discourage it.”

So which is more extreme — the President who considers anyone making $250K so rich that the government needs to confiscate more of those earnings, or the Democrats who agree with the GOP that such a policy would hurt investment and the economy?  If one counts this by a measure of bipartisanship, then it appears that the White House is holding the “extreme” position on tax hikes.

Sargent writes that national polls show support for raising taxes on the higher income earners.  Is he right?  Neither of the national polls released this week directly address the question, which seems rather odd in retrospect, since it’s about the only major issue that this Congress will have to decide this year.  The WaPo/ABC poll did ask voters which party they trusted more on taxes, and Republicans got a 45/40 lead among registered voters, a reversal of the position from six months ago, when Democrats led 41/37.

Rasmussen almost always includes this question in its state-level polling, but that’s a little different than what Sargent noted.  However, California is usually not considered a representation of conservative America, and its results are instructive.  Among likely voters in California three weeks ago, Rasmussen found a majority that supported extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and a plurality of 46% that wanted all of them extended; 41% wanted the extensions limited to middle-class earners.  If there is a national consensus to exclude the upper end from extensions, that consensus has oddly excluded California’s more liberal electorate.  Given that, expect to see even more defections from the White House message of tax hikes and more government spending.

Update: Greg e-mails me to point to the late-August CBS poll that shows 56% supporting an end to the higher-bracket tax cuts.  That’s a significant number, but it’s also worth pointing out that CBS was sampling adults, not registered or likely voters — and that their weighting had some, er, significant problems.

Update II: Greg also points to the CNN poll that did survey registered voters.