* Boehner says "irresponsible" to put tax debate off
* White House firm on middle-class tax cut extension
* Bush-era tax cuts expire Dec. 31 (Adds quotes, details)
By Glenn Somerville and Kevin Drawbaugh
WASHINGTON, Sept 26 Top U.S. Republican and Democratic officials skirmished on Sunday over the timing of a vote on extending tax cuts, seeking an edge ahead of November congressional elections likely to be dominated by job anxiety.
After Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives left open the possibility a vote will be delayed past Nov. 2 midterm elections, Republicans shot back that doing so would only add to voters' economic uncertainty.
"The Congress has an opportunity this week to end some of the uncertainty by allowing the American people to know what the tax rates are going to be at the end of the year," House Minority leader John Boehner said on "Fox News Sunday."
"To adjourn without dealing with this means that in their minds the elections are more important than jobs for the American people," he said, adding it would be "irresponsible" for lawmakers to walk away without debating the issue.
All the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 under the former George W. Bush administration are due to expire on Dec. 31. Democrats want to extend the lower rates for individuals making up to $200,000 and up to $250,000 for couples but not for the estimated 2 percent who make more than that.
UNEASE BUILDS OVER ISSUE
Republicans, and a few Democrats, says the tax reductions for high-income individuals should also be extended because raising taxes in an atmosphere of stubbornly high unemployment and slow growth risks further slowing recovery.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that a vote would be held this year, but left open the possibility that it won't happen before Nov. 2 midterm elections where Democrats are considered likely to face steep losses in the House.
House Majority leader Steny Hoyer repeated on Fox that he doubted a a pre-election vote on the tax issue will occur.
Boehner said he wanted "a fair and open debate so we can extend all of the current tax rates" and said that, if it was denied, he thought there would be bipartisan support to push for extending all the tax cuts.
On ABC's "This Week," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the reason that Democrats were unwilling to have an early vote was because they know the prospect of tax rises for any Americans angers voters.
"The question is, do we want to raise taxes in the middle of a very, very tough economy? All the Republicans think that's a bad idea, and a substantial number of the Democrats think the same thing," McConnell said.
David Axelrod, a senior White House aide and strategist, charged that Republicans were trying to hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage by insisting that the wealthiest Americans should also see tax cut extensions. "We're saying we can't afford that, not in our fiscal condition," he said on ABC.
He said past Republican administrations "quadrupled the national debt and exploded the deficits and squandered the surplus" and signaled that will be the tack Democratic candidates will use to campaign ahead of the Nov. 2 vote.
He also said the Obama administration was determined that middle-class Americans will see their reduced tax rates extended, regardless whether the issue comes before Congress before or after November's midterm vote.
"One way or the other, we're going to get it done," Axelrod said. "And I believe the pressure is going to build among the American people."
Extending the income tax cuts on the first $200,000 of an individual's income would cost about $2.9 trillion over a decade, according to the Obama Administration. Adding in those above that income -- benefiting just 2 to 3 percent of Americans -- would cost another $700 billion. (Reporting by Glenn Somerville and Kevin Drawbaugh, editing by Jackie Frank)