Last month, Cantor walked out of talks led by Vice President Biden. Cantor said the reason was Democrats’ insistence on raising taxes as part of a deal to increase the national debt ceiling.
Then, last week, Cantor urged House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to reject a possible “grand bargain” with President Obama, which could have included tax increases. Boehner pulled Republicans out of those talks.
Now, as Cantor joins other leaders at the White House for near-daily summits in the third grouping of negotiators, his moves have revealed him as a third major player in a legislative drama that had been dominated by Obama and Boehner. Where Boehner has sought to define what Republicans can do with their newfound power, Cantor, the House’s ambitious No. 2, wants to underline what Republicans would never do.
This is the first major test of that leadership style. Traditionally, congressional factions have made big deals by making big concessions to their opponents. Cantor seems to be willing to forgo the biggest of deals if it means conceding on any of his party’s key demands.
“I think behind this notion of ‘We want shared sacrifice’ that they continue to say means ‘We want to raise taxes,’ ” Cantor told reporters, rejecting a suggestion from Obama that both parties would have to make sacrifices to get a deal done. “And we don’t accept that you raise taxes in an economy like this.”
Cantor, 48, is a lawyer and former state legislator whose district includes some of Richmond’s suburbs. Upon being elected to Congress in 2000, he became the kind of ambitious legislator that his older colleagues both courted and feared.
In his second term, Cantor used connections in the Republican establishment to join the House leadership. Now in his sixth term, Cantor has sought a power base among the tea-party-affiliated conservatives who have sought to overthrow that establishment.
Through his “Young Guns” program, Cantor helped recruit many of the 87 new Republicans who won their seats last year. After the GOP took the House, he was elevated to Boehner’s second in command.
The challenge for the pair now is to strike a bargain without losing the country or their caucus. If lawmakers don’t reach a deal before Aug. 2, the United States is likely to run out of money and begin defaulting on its IOUs. But if the deal doesn’t include large spending cuts, the Republican leaders could face a revolt from the conservative rank and file.
Boehner and Cantor say they have no major disagreements over how to handle the debt negotiations. “The speaker and the majority leader work together closely and well,” a Boehner spokesman said Monday.