WASHINGTON -- Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) suggested on Wednesday that House Speaker John Boehner is stalling on a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff because he is focused on saving his speakership and coming to the table with more flexibility after his reelection.
"I'm getting increasingly concerned that one of the reasons the speaker is trying to, I think, string out these discussions is that he wants to wait until January 3 when the elections for speaker take place," the House Democratic budget chief told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "And he's concerned that any agreement he reaches -- if it violated the so-called Hastert Rule -- could undermine support for him in his caucus and make it more difficult on January 3."
"I hope he wouldn't avoid the tough decisions simply to take us into January after his swearing in, but I'm becoming increasingly worried that that's exactly what's going on," Van Hollen continued.
The comments echo similar claims made by other Democrats that Boehner is struggling to garner support from GOP leadership and is more concerned with protecting his speakership than preventing automatic tax increases and spending cuts from kicking in if an agreement is not reached by the looming Dec. 31 deadline.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid commented that the disunity in the GOP was part of Boehner's problem, and that other members of Boehner's leadership team were feuding.
"Boehner's having trouble finding help from his leadership as to what they're to do," Reid said during his weekly press availability. "The speaker has to make an important decision -- whether he's going to save his speakership or the country."
While there has been no substantial indication that the Ohio Republican faces a challenge to his speakership, Van Hollen's implied that Boehner's priority might lie within not violating the Hastert Rule -- which says only bills supported by a majority of the Republican caucus should come up for a vote in the House -- as opposed to cutting a deal that is in the best interests of the country.
"The risk for the speaker, of course, if he brings to the floor of the House a bill that doesn't have a majority of Republican votes, it could mean more churning in his caucus," Van Hollen said.
Boehner's office immediately rejected that assertion and continued to insist that the White House still hasn't gotten serious about spending cuts.
"That's nutty," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wrote in an email response to Van Hollen's remarks. "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."