Published July 14, 2011
Eric Cantor's simmering insistence on avoiding tax hikes has boiled to a political tempest in Washington's debt negotiations, infuriating Democrats who are now labeling the majority leader as "childish" and forcing Republicans to insist there's no rift between House Speaker John Boehner and his top deputy.
Cantor's steadfast refusal to raise taxes as part of a deal to increase the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit has earned him praise from the Tea Party wing of his own party, but the scorn of Democrats, who are demanding the No. 2 House Republican be booted from negotiations.
"Eric Cantor has shown that he shouldn't even be at the table and Republicans agree he shouldn't be at the table," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the chamber's floor Thursday.
"Boehner needs to rein him in, and let the grown-ups get to work," added a House Democratic source who called Cantor "juvenile."
Senate Democrats later appeared alongside Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to underscore the urgency of the situation, while voicing their own frustrations with Cantor.
Geithner declared that he's looked at "all available options" and simply cannot find a way to give Congress more time to negotiate.
"We don't have much time. It's time we move," he said.
During talks Wednesday evening at the White House, Cantor earned a sharp rebuke from the president, according to sources, for suggesting that the parties agree to a short-term deal since the two sides couldn't find sufficient common ground.
Obama shut Cantor down, those sources revealed, saying "enough is enough" and telling him, "Don't call my bluff." One source said the president, before walking out of the room, told Cantor he "will not yield" on his push for revenue increases and will take it to the American people for support.
But Cantor, who described the president's departure as testy, and others pushed back on descriptions he was impudent in his insistence.
"I never interrupted the president, and in fact was deferential," Cantor said.
Cantor's role is risky. As ratings agencies warn the country's sterling credit rating could be in jeopardy if there's no deal by the Aug. 2 deadline set by the administration as the drop-dead date, Cantor is being singled out for slowing things down, endangering the nation's credit-worthiness.
Throughout the finger-pointing, Cantor and other Republicans have made every effort to downplay the perception of friction between the No. 2 Republican and the more flexible speaker who allegedly had been nearer to a deal with Democrats before talks grew increasingly tense this week.
Boehner said Thursday that he and Cantor are in the "foxhole" together, and that any suggestion Cantor has been unhelpful is "wrong."
In Cantor's daily missive, his office said the GOP leader is pushing to reach a package that meets "the speaker's call" for spending cuts equal to the size of the debt ceiling increase, without tax increases.
Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News on Wednesday that party leaders are all on the same page.
Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon suggested that Reid and others are calling out the GOP leader because he is fighting against those who want to set back the economy by raising taxes and not cutting spending.
"This isn't a question about personalities -- Eric, President Obama or Harry Reid -- it's about doing what is right for the country and trying to find a productive solution that finally demonstrates Washington is serious about America's fiscal health," Fallon said in an email.
As negotiators prepare to resume talks at the White House Thursday, the environment for good-faith -- and more importantly, speedy -- negotiations appears to be eroding.
"I myself am almost too busy to continue listening to some of the things that are going on in that room," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, while praising Obama for having "more patience than Job."
"There's really only one person who has not made any concessions of all the eight ... nine in that room, and that is Majority Leader Cantor. He is basically standing in the way and it's a shame," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
But negotiators are trying to chart the next step, including possibility holding of an extra round of talks this weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
Pelosi showed little enthusiasm about that prospect, noting that leaders and their staff already are devoting many hours each day to these meetings.
"The only place I hope he doesn't ask us to go is Camp David," she said.
A senior House GOP source also said Boehner has told Obama he sees no need to go to Camp David.