House Speaker John A,. Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama must realistically agree to the framework of a deal if they wish to avoid the year-end fiscal cliff by Christmas, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Wednesday.
To get a deal by Christmas and leave town for the holidays, as many lawmakers would like, Van Hollen said a deal must be struck by the end of the week, adding he does not believe the probability is high that a compromise can come together that quickly.
The comments from Van Hollen, which last week identified House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a lead liaison to "fiscal cliff" talks between Obama and Boehner, came at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Van Hollen said he is increasingly coming to the belief that averting $500 billion in scheduled year-end tax increases and mandatory spending cuts will likely require Boehner to bring a legislative solution to the House of the floor that could pass largely on the strength of Democratic votes.
"I think the biggest impediment right now is the speaker’s ability to get a decent number of Republican votes for an agreement that I think most people would agree was a fair agreement," he said. "The point I think the speaker should make to his caucus is that even if they’re against it, they can go ahead and vote against it. But that he’s doing the Republican party a favor, certainly doing the country a favor…by allowing them to get this
issue behind us."
He said Boehner may be delaying such action to avoid angering his own members with a solution that leans so heavily on Democrats before his Jan. 3 reelection as speaker.
Van Hollen said Democrats are willing to look at ways to constrain the costs of health programs but said two items specifically named by Republicans as a top priorities -- applying a less generous definition of inflation to Social Security cost-of-living increases and raising the Medicare retirement age -- were of "great concern" to many Democrats.
President Obama had indicated a willingness to give on both issues during last summer's secret negotiations with Boehner over raising the debt ceiling. But Van Hollen said Obama's reelection win has changed the dynamics of the entitlement debate.
"Obviously, there was no final agreement back in the summer," he said. "There were lots of moving parts, there were lots of different versions of what happened there. But we have had an election where these issues and these contrasting priorities were very much a part of the debate throughout the election as well as at specific presidential debates. That obviously has changed the nature of the discussion."
"That being said, the president is obviously he’s in the middle of negotiations. My point is there are better ways to achieve the same kind of savings in Medicare and elsewhere than simply transferring those costs onto seniors, which is what the age change in Medicare would do," he said.