Democrats hit Boehner for downplaying likelihood of lame-duck deficit deal

House Democrats are attacking House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio) this week, claiming he set the bar too low for the lame-duck session.

BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE over the weekend said it's unlikely House Republicans would push for a sweeping budget deal when Congress returns to Washington after November's elections to address the looming "fiscal cliff."

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Top Democrats have pounced, accusing GOP leaders of pushing the nation's troubles into the indefinite future rather than working harder to solve them this year. 

"There's no reason why we shouldn't deal with it [the fiscal cliff] now – but certainly after the elections, if that's what the Republicans are waiting for, then we should do it after the elections," Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraWasserman Schultz fights to keep her job Minority lawmakers bash Trump over housing crisis Pelosi, Dems rush to defense of Wasserman Schultz MORE (Calif.), the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. "But now ... Republican leadership is saying, 'No, we don't want to deal with these big issues any time soon; let's just kick the can down the road.'

"I don't think that's the way to resolve this," Becerra added. "We should have done this a long time ago, and the time to act — to work — is not tomorrow, it's yesterday." 

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was even more personal, accusing Boehner of punting in the lame duck to avoid alienating the rank-and-file Republicans — particularly the Tea Party crowd — who will select the party leaders for the next Congress. 

"This lack of leadership is frantic posturing by someone beholden to the extreme factions of his party," Honda said Tuesday in an email. 

"Will it be tough for the Speaker to run for a leadership post while trying to head off the fiscal cliff and work with Democrats to pass legislation? Absolutely," Honda added. "But that’s what leaders do. If he can’t lead his party and do what’s right for the country at the same time, then the Teapublicans or its leadership need to change.”

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said Tuesday that Republicans have every intention of addressing the fiscal cliff issues this year. He placed the blame for the unfinished business squarely on the shoulders of Senate Democrats.

"The Speaker has made clear Congress must act to address the upcoming fiscal cliff," Smith said in an email. "Unlike Senate Democrats, the House has already passed legislation that replaces the sequester and stops the looming tax hike for one year while Congress works to enact comprehensive tax and entitlement reform. Tax hikes are a non-starter because they will destroy jobs and hurt our economy.”

Both chambers of Congress departed Washington last month for a seven-week recess, essentially kicking a long list of legislative loose ends to be tied up after the Nov. 6 elections. Among the most prominent issues that will need addressing in the lame duck are looming spending cuts under the sequester, the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates for all income levels, a scheduled reduction in Medicare payments for doctors and a string of expiring tax benefits for businesses and individuals alike. 

Some on Capitol Hill are pushing to tackle those issues as part of a far-reaching deal designed to rein in deficit spending. But Boehner over the weekend warned that such a package would not only be "difficult" in the short post-election window, it's "probably not ... appropriate."

"Frankly, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do — have a lot of retiring members and defeated members voting on really big bills," Boehner told Politico. "Probably not the appropriate way to handle the lame duck."

The comments are consistent with Republicans' position in the 2010 lame duck, when Democrats were scrambling to wrap up a deal on taxes and spending before Jan. 1; House GOP leaders — fresh from huge victories at the polls — wanted to push those debates to 2011, when they'd control the Speaker's gavel.

Most election handicappers are predicting that, while the Republicans will likely keep control of the House in the next Congress, Democrats are expected to pick up seats, giving them more leverage in their negotiations with the GOP next year.

Still, even the possibility of greater numbers in 2013 hasn't stopped Democrats from pushing for a sweeping deficit deal this year. 

By threatening to delay those negotiations, Honda charged, "[Boehner] is taking us backwards and scuttling progress."

--This report was originally posted at 3:57 p.m. and last updated at 4:59 p.m.