A top Democratic leader Wednesday accused House Speaker John Boehner of stringing out "fiscal cliff" negotiations with President Obama until after he wins his speakership reelection, when he would then cave in to Democratic demands to get a deal done without a majority of House Republican support.
"I hope he wouldn't avoid the tough decisions simply to take us into January and after his swearing-in, but I've become increasingly worried that that is exactly what's going on," charged Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
"I would hope that he would put the interests of getting an agreement before House Republican politics," added Van Hollen during a newsmaker breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
"That's nutty," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Secrets. "The speaker is doing everything possible to avert the fiscal cliff and protect American jobs right now. The White House just refuses to get serious about solving our country's spending problem," he added.
Twice during the breakfast, Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, suggested that Boehner is working toward a compromise Republicans will hate, one that presumably increases taxes on the rich beyond what the GOP has said it will agree to. He also repeatedly said that Boehner won't present that deal until after he wins reelection on January 3.
"My view is that a deal that would be perceived by the vast majority of the country to be reasonable, that involves compromise on all sides, where the speaker may not be able to get a majority of Republicans in his caucus to vote" for is being planned, said Van Hollen.
Such a deal, he suggested, would get House Democratic support but prompt a rift in the GOP and spark a conservative revolt.
"The risk for the speaker, of course, is if he brings to the floor of the House a bill that doesn't have a majority of Republican votes, that could create more churning within his caucus, meaning that he doesn't get the votes necessary [for reelection] on January 3," said Van Hollen. The "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and radical spending cuts begins on January 1.
GOP officials said, however, that there is no talk of a secret deal to sell out Republican principles of lower taxes and spending cuts, that most conservative members are giving Boehner the benefit of the doubt in his talks with President Obama, and that Van Hollen is just trying to stir up worried House Republicans.