With all eyes on the bipartisan congressional supercommittee charged with drafting a debt-reduction deal by Thanksgiving, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday deflected questions on whether the panel might succeed – and what Congress ought to do if it doesn’t.
At a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters, Cantor declined more than half-a-dozen times to speculate on the work of the committee and whether Congress should abide by the $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cut that will be enacted in January 2013 if the 12-member panel fails to reach a deal.
“What I can tell you is what I’ve said before; I’m not going to opine about their work, about reported deals,” Cantor said in response to the session’s first question. “Again, I’ve served on the Biden talks. I know how difficult it is and how much pressure they’re under. We’ve got to let them do their work. I’m hopeful that there will be a good result come Nov. 23.”
What are the options for Congress if the committee fails? asked one reporter.
“You know, I’m not going to answer any hypotheticals about their work,” Cantor replied. “What I’m telling you is that I’m hopeful they’re going to complete their work and make the Nov. 23 deadline.”
Another reporter cut in: “Well, this is not a hypothetical. Do you endorse them sticking to the law, which means not turning off the sequester?”
“Again, I’m hopeful that they will arrive at a deal and that the sequester will not be activated,” Cantor said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier this month that if the committee fails, he personally would feel “morally bound” to accept the across-the-board cut, which would hit both defense and non-defense spending.
Asked Monday whether he felt the same way, Cantor declined to say – although he did predict that the supercommittee would reach a deal by its Thanksgiving deadline.
“Again, I’m not going to comment,” Cantor said. “I don’t think the sequester will be applicable because I believe that they will reach an agreement by the deadline.”
How might the markets respond if the supercommittee fails? another reporter asked.
Cantor responded that “there’s differing opinions about whether there will be downgrades or not.”
“I think everybody wants to see some results here in Washington, and that’s where the frustration has become,” he said.
Cantor’s reticence Monday stood in contrast to the Virginia Republican’s willingness earlier this year to opine on the supercommittee’s work. Asked in September what Republicans would like to see in a debt deal, Cantor replied that “absolutely, we want to see real tax reform” and said more broadly that the work of the bipartisan debt-ceiling group led by Vice President Biden in the spring “certainly could provide a starting point” in the talks.
On the one hand, Cantor’s reluctance to weigh in on the supercommittee’s work could mean that the group is making progress, as congressional leaders typically step up their rhetoric ahead of an anticipated failure in order to push blame onto the other party. But on the other hand, it’s worth not reading too much into Cantor’s comments, since supercommittee members in TV appearances over the weekend gave little indication that the group is nearing its goal of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade.
Asked about the role anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has played in the debate over the debt and whether new tax revenue should be included in a final deal, Cantor replied that “it’s not about Grover Norquist.”
“It’s about commitments that people made to the electorates they represent, the people that send them here,” he said. “That’s what it’s about, so again, your word should be good to your constituents.”
“And as far as the supercommittee is concerned, yet again, I am not going to be opining as to any reports, hypotheticals or anything connected with their work,” Cantor said. “I want them to do their work without added pressure.”