New York Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler on Sunday said Republicans are behaving like "a bunch of gangsters" on taxes, accusing them of employing mob-like tactics to extort high-end tax cuts by threatening middle class tax relief.

"The Republican block is saying, like a bunch of gangsters, it's a nice middle class tax cut – a pity something would happen to it," Nadler said on CBS’s “Face the Nation." "Unless you give the millionaires and billionaires a long-term tax cut, we're not going to permit the middle class to continue its tax cut."

"But that millionaires' and billionaires' tax cut will cost $700 billion added to the deficit over the next ten years, which we can't afford," he said.

The fierce rhetoric reflects a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans on whether or not to extend tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire on December 31, for the top 2-3 percent of Americans. Republicans have threatened to block any deal that does to extend them, and House Democrats are determined to end them.

Nadler worried that if President Barack Obama gives in to Republican "blackmail," GOP leaders would use a similar tactic in two years to make the high-end tax cuts permanent.

He accused Republicans of deliberately trying to blow up the national debt so they can later argue that popular entitlement programs – long a target for conservatives – need to be cut in order to prevent a fiscal catastrophe.

The GOP plan to "starve the beast," Nadler charged, is "to create such massive tax cuts that we'll have to cut Social Security, Medicare, AIDS, education, housing and everything else."

Nadler’s comments also illustrate a remarkable aspect of the current tax debate: the role reversal between the two parties on the federal deficit. After hammering deficit concerns into the national consciousness over the last two years, Republicans are adamant that tax cuts for the rich costing $70 billion annually must be extended. And Democrats, who have pushed various spending measures in an attempt to boost the economy, are invoking fiscal responsibility to try and let them expire.

As Congress prepares for a showdown over this sticking point in a deal between Obama and Senate Republicans, White House senior adviser David Axelrod on Sunday expressed confidence that the measure would pass, despite rebellion from House Democrats.

This video is from CBS' Face the Nation, broadcast Dec. 12, 2010.