House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday that when it comes to figuring out a way forward on funding the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, the ball is in Senate Democrats’ court.
Asked whether it’s necessary for the Senate to pass its own funding resolution in order for negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House to progress, the number-two House Republican responded, “Well, I mean otherwise, you’re just negotiating with yourself. We have no concept of where the Senate can be as far as its 60 votes, and that’s what we keep asking Leader [Harry] Reid for. I mean, step up and lead.”
Cantor made the remarks in an interview Wednesday morning during which he also touched on the path ahead on the budget battle for the 2012 fiscal year, the debate over entitlement reform and the potential showdown over the upcoming debt limit vote.
While a measure funding the government through April 8 is likely to reach President Obama’s desk before the end of the week, the path ahead on keeping the government running beyond then remains unclear.
The House has passed its own measure containing $61 billion in cuts, but both that bill and a competing proposal by Senate Democrats fell short in the Senate last week. Congressional leaders and the White House had agreed that staging votes on both measures – even though they were slated to fail – would give leaders greater leverage in persuading their caucuses that a budget compromise is necessary.
But in recent days, House Republicans have increased their calls for the Senate to pass its own funding measure. Democrats have countered that Republicans are the ones who must provide a budget compromise since their measure was also rejected by the Senate; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also noted Tuesday that the Constitution calls for all appropriations bills to originate in the House.
Congress is on recess next week, meaning that lawmakers and the White House will have only two weeks in which to hammer out a longer-term funding deal before (again) being confronted with the possibility of a government shutdown.
Beyond the short-term funding debate, Congress faces the issue of drafting a budget for the next fiscal year, on which the gulf between both parties is even greater. House Republicans have pledged that their budget, which will be drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and released sometime next month, will include an attempt to reform expensive entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicaid.
Cantor on Wednesday reiterated that seniors’ benefits wouldn’t change under the plan, but there would be significant changes for those 54 and younger.
“I think what you’re going to see is the topline being that we want to protect today’s seniors and those nearing retirement, and to say to them, their benefits will not change,” Cantor said. “It is the rest of us -- those of us 54 and younger -- that will, I think, will be faced and are facing the reality that if we want these programs to be around, they’re just not going to look the same. They can’t.”
He added that “the numbers and the math are what they are. I think it’s about being honest with the people and facing the facts and providing solutions so that we can go forward to see a much more prosperous future before us rather than what we’re facing now.”
Asked how closely the plan will hew to Ryan’s controversial “Roadmap for America’s Future,” Cantor said that there will likely be “a lot of consistency” with the general idea of the roadmap but noted that Ryan’s plan “was the first attempt to try and say there are ways to deal with this.”
“Certainly, there are some tough decisions to be made, but I think that what you will see, again, is taking off from there an attempt to speak in a very responsible way about how we feel we ought to be taking this country forward,” Cantor said.
On the issue of raising the debt ceiling, Cantor argued that most Americans would likely be opposed to the idea of the country defaulting on its debt.
“I don’t think that the American people believe that we shouldn’t pay our bills in this country,” he said. “I think most people sort of think that that’s a good thing, to pay our bills. But we also know the reality that families and businesses are facing. We’ve got to learn to do more with less; we’ve got to tighten our belts.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday said that Senate Republicans will likely oppose raising the debt ceiling “unless it includes with it some credible effort to do something about our debt,” while House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that the House won’t vote on the debt limit “without real spending cuts and real changes to the way we spend the people’s money.”
Cantor on Wednesday said there hasn’t been much discussion that he’s engaged in on the issue within the House Republican conference since the focus in recent weeks has been on keeping the federal government funded.
“We’ve got to pass April 15 to see what the revenues look like to understand exactly when that date is that we’re going to have to deal with that vote,” Cantor said. “But we’ve got a lot of time before then to do the kinds of things that I think everybody agrees on: demonstrate fiscal discipline and make sure that spending does not get out of control again so we don’t have to keep borrowing this kind of money.”