In Cantor’s district, Republicans spread the blame around

July 23, 2011

— A hundred miles south of the bickering in the nation’s capital, Republicans in the district of one of the chief negotiators, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R), delivered a mixed and sometimes contradictory picture on Saturday of what they hope will emerge from the talks.

More than a dozen shoppers at the Virginia Center Commons Mall said they want their leaders to stand firm against tax increases, but they’re tired of the bickering. They expect a deal on the debt ceiling, but don’t necessarily think one is required. And they agree with Cantor on the substance of the debate, but don’t all endorse his tactics.

“I think the Republicans are doing a good job just because of the fact that they had a plan. They had something on the table, whereas Obama isn’t showing any kind of leadership,” said Stephen McNiff, a branch manager at a Richmond bank.

David Lowery, a merchandiser, gave a harsher assessment.

“They’re all clowns – both sides,” Lowery said, though he agrees with the GOP philosophically. “I think they ought to cut spending and the Democrats ought to shut up about everything since they’re the ones who passed that health-care bill.”

Some Republicans looked more favorably on the “balanced approach” advocated by President Obama. “If to keep from going further in debt they have to raise taxes, [then] they have to raise taxes,” said Ken Winter, who sells building materials.

Nationally, Republicans are widely critical of their party’s leadership in the debt talks. Nearly six in 10 in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll say GOP leaders are not doing enough to compromise with Obama on deficit issues.

Half of the Republicans surveyed in the poll said the best way to reduce the deficit is by an exclusive focus on cutting federal spending, but nearly as many accept new taxes as part of the mix. Most Republicans support higher taxes on those earning $250,000 and up annually and on oil and gas companies.

Obama made that point Friday night after Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Cantor abandoned the talks, saying “There are a lot of Republican voters out there who are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. Because the fact of the matter is the vast majority of the American people believe we should have a balanced approach.”

But in this pocket of Virginia, many Republicans were inclined to blame the White House for the impasse.

“I think it goes back to when Obama bailed out the banks,” said Robin Salyer, who works for the American Red Cross. “The same people that put us there are the ones in charge now.”

Told that the Troubled Asset Relief Program legislation became law in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, Salyer said: “I blame both of them.”

Cantor — who has held this solidly Republican central Virginia district comfortably since 2000 — has played an unusual part in the debt negotiations, alternating between a leading role and that of a restless understudy.

Democrats have sought to paint him as petulant and also to exacerbate perceived tensions between the House’s top two Republicans.

“There’s times when he can get a little childish in his ways, like walking out of the debt meeting because he wasn’t getting his way,” McNiff said of Cantor.

Others were more sympathetic. “I know he walked out when things weren’t working out, which I don’t have a problem with,” said Charlie Lohmuller, a plumber.

Though experts have warned otherwise, some mall-goers said they were not concerned that the credit cards they were using – and home, car and student loans – might get more expensive if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

McNiff, the bank manager, called the warnings about the debt ceiling “a scare tactic,” predicting “a slight uptick” in interest rates but nothing “as dramatic as they’re projecting.”

Winter compared the debt-ceiling debate to the Y2K computer scare, which proved much less severe than advertised.

“It’s the same thing,” he said. “The sky’s not going to fall and life will go on.”

Not everyone was sanguine about the Aug. 2 deadline, though.

“We’re on Social Security and they’re talking about stopping that check, and that’s going to hurt a lot of seniors,” said Elizabeth Worley, a homemaker. If that happens, she’ll blame Obama.

As for Cantor, Worley said he was doing the best he could “with what he’s got to work with: The feudin’ and the fightin’ and the fussin.”

Polling Director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.

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