Since then, Cantor says, the discussions have gone downhill, with the White House chipping away at the cuts it had openly considered during the Biden meetings as parts of a possible debt-limit package. Coming out of the Biden talks, Cantor says, “I believed that we were at a $2.2, $2.3 trillion–type number, Well, the president said that he felt like we were more at $1.7, maybe $1.8 trillion if you massage it. Then, yesterday, after staff members met at the White House, we get a paper telling us that the number is barely at $1.4 trillion.”
For all the news stories about Republican sniping, Cantor says it’s the Democrats who are in disarray. “It seems, now, that the president drew an arbitrary line at $1.7 trillion; then Reid and [House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi drew a line and said we’re at $1.4 trillion. Anything above that, they say, they’re going to need new revenues, new tax hikes on the table.”
Cantor shakes his head at the ever-evolving numbers in the Democrats’ offerings. Despite their inconsistent message, he says that he will continue to attend the summits, doing what he can to help broker a favorable agreement. “We need a short-term solution that meets the goals the speaker has set out,” he says.
There are rumors that relations between Boehner and Cantor are tense. The majority leader swats back that charge. “We’ve had a very productive working relationship,” he says. “We meet regularly, at least three, four times a week, maybe more. I have a very open dialogue with him. Both of us are team players. We share a philosophy of governance.” Boehner, he says, walked away from a “grand bargain” with Obama “for the same reason I walked away from the Biden talks: Democrats insisted on tax increases.”
What about the chatter that Boehner was potentially open to tax increases as part of a deal? “He never agreed to a tax increase,” Cantor says. He and the speaker, he emphasizes, despite all the reports, are on the same page. “The path ahead is for us to focus on delivering a result,” he says. “We will see a balanced-budget amendment come to the floor when we come back next week. We’ll see about ‘Cut, cap, and balance,’ and where that lies in all of this,” he adds, in reference to the fiscal plan proposed by the Republican Study Committee.
But if that fails, is Cantor willing to consider the McConnell plan, a legislative maneuver that would enable President Obama to raise the debt ceiling via a presidential veto? “I think Leader McConnell has put forward his proposal in case there was nothing else,” he says. “I remain focused on trying to meet the objectives that we are trying to achieve in the House.”
With that, he smiles and sips from a water bottle. An aide comes in with more papers. Things may be tense, and Cantor is under fire, but he is no mood to throw in the towel.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.