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July 11, 2011 4:30 PM Cantor conspicuous confusion over compromise

By Steve Benen

All of the relevant players in D.C. want to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a crisis. President Obama is urging Republicans to compromise: Democrats will accept a lot of cuts if Republicans accept a little revenue.

Today, the oft-confused House Majority Leader tried to argue that Republicans have already made all the concessions they should be expected to make: they’re willing to raise the debt ceiling after Dems pay the ransom.

Amid ongoing negotiations with President Obama over raising the debt ceiling, House Republican leaders responded to Obama’s call Monday for compromise by saying that their openness to raising the debt ceiling at all is sacrifice enough.

“A vote to increase the debt limit in this country is an existential question for a fiscal conservative,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday. “These votes aren’t easy. …What I don’t think that the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they’re going to vote for a debt ceiling increase.”

Cantor added that his party’s concession is “the fact that we are voting — the fact that we are even discussing voting for a debt ceiling increase.”

And with this, the House Majority Leader has slipped into true madness.

First, characterizing a willingness to raise the debt ceiling as some kind of enormous sacrifice is insane. We’re talking about paying a bill for money we’ve already spent. Cantor wants the political world to understand that his party sees this as an “existential” problem? Maybe he can start by explaining why Republicans had no qualms about voting to raise the debt ceiling seven out of the eight years Bush was in office.

Maybe it only became “an existential problem” after a Democrat got elected? Or more likely, Eric Cantor’s conspicuous unintelligence is catching up with him. When he’s personally voting routinely to raise the debt ceiling, it’s not controversial. When he doesn’t feel like letting America pay its bills, then the rest of the world just doesn’t understand what a burden it is for Republicans to meet their legal, moral, and economic obligations.

But just as importantly, Cantor is turning the very notion of what a compromise is on its ear.

Democratic and Republican leaders agree that the debt ceiling has to be raised; it’s not optional. Once that’s established, the question then becomes what it will take to get reluctant lawmakers to do what they have to do.

On the debt ceiling, Dems are willing to accept a trade-off — they’ll accept spending cuts in exchange for at least a little new revenue. That, to them, seems fair. Indeed, it’s probably too fair — in the last 80 years, no party has ever had to pay a ransom to get a party to do their duty.

Eric Cantor has a very different idea about the nature of the process. They see an alternative trade-off — the GOP will accept spending cuts, and in exchange, they won’t deliberately destroy the economy.

Dems are willing to accept concessions to strike a deal. Republicans are willing to not shoot their hostage in the head in exchange for Dems giving the GOP what it wants.

The former is an example of a party negotiating in good faith. The latter is an example of reckless thugs pretending to be a political party.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

  • Rob on July 11, 2011 4:32 PM:

    And yet Cantor will pay no price for his truly insane comments: he'll cruise to re-election, thanks to his idiot constituents. And the rest of us have to suffer because of it.

    To quote a great man: "I've said it before: Democracy just doesn't work."

  • DRF on July 11, 2011 4:37 PM:

    Cantor is undoubtedly not the sharpest tool in the shed, but it's not really insane for him to characterize the quid pro quo here as: we agree to increase the debt ceiling in return for you agreeing to spending cuts. In fact, it's a kind of shrewd positioning of the issue.

    And the increase in the debt ceiling is not about paying the bill for money already spent; as I understand it, it's about the government being able to spend more money in the future than it is taking in.

    Of course, Cantor should avoid big words--increasing the debt ceiling is not any sort of "existential" question for a conservatives. We've had deficits for decades and have frequently increased the debt ceiling with bipartisan support.

  • T2 on July 11, 2011 4:38 PM:

    I've noticed that everytime Boner and McConnell are in a photo, Cantor is also there.
    I think Cantor sees himself as the Republican presidential victor in 2016- the first TeaParty Pres. It amazes me that the Corporate Media control this country to the extent that these crazy, stupid GOPers are actually running the country. It is really mind-boggling.

  • Mike on July 11, 2011 4:39 PM:

    In a twisted way this is brilliant. It is simple and pithy and as long as you don't understand the problem or think too deeply about it, it seems like an airtight response. This is exactly the kind of meme that can be repeated over and over on Fox and by Limbaugh and get the Republicans off the hook with the sizable number of voters who don't understand the problem or think too deeply about it.

  • Anonymous on July 11, 2011 4:39 PM:

    Who thinks Republicans will trade something they hate (tax increases) for something they don't want (entitlement cuts)? Republicans do not want to cut Medicare and SS - they want to privatize them so they can redirect 100's of billions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and private insurance companies while reassuring seniors (their main constituency) that they are really saving their entitlements.

  • kevo on July 11, 2011 4:41 PM:

    Any parents of teenagers on this thread? Do your teens play video games where they must kill Nazi Zombies before they themselves are killed?

    If you are, and you do, you'll need to ask your children about their attitudes regarding Newbies! When they tell you Newbies can't play the game effectively and efficiently, they panic, and let all their arsonel go in a flurry to destroy everything they're scared of because they can't seem to catch up to the pace of the game, you can get a clear sense of just how far out of it Eric Cantor is when it comes to playing elected politics. He's panicked, and now he's lobbing as many destructive devices he can to end the game in his favor even though he's in way over his head.

    Of course a different take on Cantor's apparent confusion is that he may be a bit smarter than he's letting on, and he's merely betting for default since he can short sell his Treasury bonds and make a profit, as he's using his elected office to sell us down the river of economic demise!

    I'd call Cantor a Putz, but I believe Newbie is a better, far more apt term he resembles these days!-Kevo

  • RLinMass on July 11, 2011 4:44 PM:

    "Republicans are willing to not shoot their hostage in the head in exchange for Dems giving the GOP what it wants."

    Correction:

    "Republicans are willing to not shoot their hostage in the head in exchange for Dems cutting off the hostage's legs."

  • DRF on July 11, 2011 4:46 PM:

    I'd like to expand on my prior comment.

    You and I may disagree with Cantor in the way he chooses to characterize this, but it's neither insane nor confused. He wants to present the issue as an increase in the debt ceiling in return for spending cuts, his unspoken premise being that, for whatever reason, tax increases are bad policy. That's a legitimate position to take, albeit one we disagree with. Belittling his point of view by delegitimizing it isn't going to persuade anyone.

    Independent of how he chooses to characterize the dispute, I, too, find the holding of the debt ceiling as hostage to be offensive and and inappropriate.

  • Mitchell Hirsch on July 11, 2011 4:47 PM:

    Actually, it's more like Republicans agreeing to deliberately destroying the economy somewhat less rapidly or more rapidly.

    That's their 'existential' problem.

  • Stephen on July 11, 2011 4:48 PM:

    Cantor, McConnell and Boehner have all voted to raise the debt ceiling multiple times in their careers. They have also supported multiple budgets with deficit spending.

    Suddenly it's "existential question for a fiscal conservative" ?

  • Errington Thompson on July 11, 2011 4:48 PM:

    To Eric Cantor, this was never about compromise. It was about getting what he wanted and that's it. These Republicans want to shrink the size of government. That's it in a nutshell. They see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take huge chunks out of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They aren't going let this opportunity get away from them.

    This was never about balancing the budget. This was never about fiscal discipline. It is about taking on the beast. It is about fulfilling Grover Norquist dream of shrinking the size of government till it small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.

    As usual, great post.

  • Daryl McCullough on July 11, 2011 4:50 PM:

    DRF: as I understand it, you are not correct. Raising the debt ceiling is necessary to pay for expenses already incurred, not just future expenses.

  • AngryOldVet on July 11, 2011 4:51 PM:

    As crazy, stupid, and ignorant an ass that Cantor may be, he likely understands the legacy that Obama has created for himself. The Obomination has created a legacy of starting negotiations by providing 50% of what the repukes want and then capitulating to give the repukes virtually everything that they want.

    Obama's history is that of being The Capitulator in Chief so why should Cantor and the other Teabagger-Owned repukes believe that anything has changed?

    The increasingly few sane repuke politicians in D.C. are so damn afraid of the Billionaire funded Teabaggers that they will not challenge their insanity!

    What the f*ck kind of Grass-Roots organization is wholely supporting the agenda of Billionaires?

    January 15, 2010!!! The day that the corporately owned supremes handed down the Citizens United Not Divided (CUNT) vs FEC ruling is the day that the ownership of the United States of Amerika was decided in favor of the wealthy.

    Is there any more hope for the salvaging of democracy in the U.S.? With the Amerikan Sheeple uninformed and misinformed and led by the nose to the will of the wealthy, probably not.

  • zeitgeist on July 11, 2011 4:51 PM:

    Independent of how he chooses to characterize the dispute, I, too, find the holding of the debt ceiling as hostage to be offensive and and inappropriate.

    unfortunately, DRF, that horse is long out of the barn. why every Democrat from Barak Obama to the 18 yr old working part time at Target in Mizzoula didn't insist on a clean bill, and refuse to even discuss anything else, consistently and from the word 'go' will forever be a mystery to me.

    after 80 years, there will never be a clean debt ceiling bill again. because the Senate and President wouldn't insist on one when it was challenged. that genie escaped on a watch that was mainly staffed by Democrats. it will be a long-term source of shame.

  • FRP on July 11, 2011 4:52 PM:

    Kevo - Cantor is a millionaire and while I enthusiastically enjoyed the balance of your post , it is unlikely as hell a fifteen thousand dollar investment will radically alter the value of Rep Cantor's wealth .

    DRF
    ...the increase in the debt ceiling is not about paying the bill for money already spent; as I understand it, it's about the government being able to spend more money in the future than it is taking in ...

    I gotta tell DRF when it seems that the debt ceiling being raised is to pay for items already purchased and sitting on the coffee table , your own view of the debt ceiling appears to be in wild conflict with what I know .
    Mmmkay ?

  • Marko on July 11, 2011 4:58 PM:

    So then by the same logic, if the Dems had won the house, then we would reasonably expect to see proposals where there are no spending cuts and all tax increases to balance the debt. Yeah, right.

  • bigtuna on July 11, 2011 4:59 PM:

    an “existential” problem ...

    good grief. If every there was a real, tangible, desperately real problem, that is to say, completely NOT existenial, thiis is it.

    What a complete moron. can Obama ask to have someone with a brain show up?

  • pluege on July 11, 2011 5:04 PM:

    We’re talking about paying a bill for money we’ve already spent. Cantor wants the political world to understand that his party sees this as an “existential” problem?

    gee, since republicans have equated the US government finances with that of the average American household, I guess cantor's message to the average American household is that they too should not even consider figuring out how to pay their bills.

    republican dumbassery is astounding.

  • Live Free or Die on July 11, 2011 5:11 PM:

    Pussycrats rock the house. They pass things George W could not have asked for.

  • bigtuna on July 11, 2011 5:20 PM:

    I am going to go to my bank and stop payment on my loans. By Cantor's, Boner, etc. way of "thinking" my loans are existential .... so don't need to be paid.

  • Ron Byers on July 11, 2011 5:27 PM:

    "Cantor, McConnell and Boehner have all voted to raise the debt ceiling multiple times in their careers. They have also supported multiple budgets with deficit spending.

    "Suddenly it's "existential question for a fiscal conservative" ?"

    Nobody in the media (or on Fox News) will ever mention that Cantor has voted to raise the debt ceiling several times.

    As for the comment itself if you read the polls you realize that most of the population thinks raising the debt ceiling is tied to spending more money instead of paying the bills that have already been authorized. That polling is what Cantor is counting on. Since the press hasn't told the truth about the debt ceiling, his bet is not far off the mark.

    Of course, if Obama sticks to his guns and the debt ceiling blows up in his face Cantor will have to answer to all the people who now know their interest rates are going up, their jobs are being cut and they are not receiving their government checks. Cantor is banking on the notion that won't happen because Obama will cash in before watching America go down the drain.

    Lately I have become a little worried about Steve's framing of the Republican insanity. It is only insane for reality based readers. Reality and Fox News don't have much in common.

  • Shalimar on July 11, 2011 5:27 PM:

    Cantor's political future depends on this confusion, and on stabbing Boehner in the back. The only surprising thing is that Boehner gave him the knife so willingly by trying to compromise.

  • Joe Friday on July 11, 2011 5:31 PM:

    Cantor added that his party's concession is "the fact that we are voting - the fact that we are even discussing voting for a debt ceiling increase."

    This is exactly why you don't pay blackmailers. You tell them to take a long walk off a short pier.

  • kindness on July 11, 2011 5:36 PM:

    I have an existential problem I'd like to work on. These chuckleheads, Cantor, Kyl, McConnell....they continue to exist.

    At some point there will be a new French Revolution here in the good ole US of A. Then what will Faux News lead with?

  • danimal on July 11, 2011 6:14 PM:

    I'd believe Cantor if anyone is able to find any type of "existential" questioning regarding:
    A) the multiple debt ceiling increases passed under President Bush
    B) the Medicare Part D expansion
    C) the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and especially 2003 or
    D) the unpaid-for Iraq invasion.

    My virtually 100% certainty is that all of these were supported without a peep about the deficit impact, but I'd love to be proven wrong. Because I would hate to think that the House Majority Leader is a hypocrite and liar. That would really bother me...

  • Kilgore Trout on July 11, 2011 6:17 PM:

    "And the increase in the debt ceiling is not about paying the bill for money already spent; as I understand it, it's about the government being able to spend more money in the future than it is taking in."

    The House has appropriated money to be spent, and is now trying to extract a ransom for financing the very spending they approved.

  • Josef K on July 11, 2011 6:18 PM:

    From kindness at 5:36pm:

    At some point there will be a new French Revolution here in the good ole US of A. Then what will Faux News lead with?

    While the prospect of our latter-day aristocracy having an appointment with 'Dr. Guillotine' being broadcast over Murdoch's media empire...its not something we really want happening here in the US. Keep in mind, the French Revolution didn't end with the storming of the Bastille and execution of the King and Queen. It led directly into the Reign of Terror and the mass execution of (at least) 15,000 for virtually no reason.

    Do we really want to see mountains of nameless bodies littering the streets?

  • fourlegsgood on July 11, 2011 6:21 PM:

    I don't really care what they find "difficult."

    If they find being in government a problem, then they should fucking resign their office. To scared to take a tough vote? then take your whiny ass titty baby routine and go the hell home.

    The rest of us aren't really interested in what your rabid followers want.

  • fourlegsgood on July 11, 2011 6:23 PM:

    And the increase in the debt ceiling is not about paying the bill for money already spent; as I understand it, it's about the government being able to spend more money in the future than it is taking in.

    ummm, no. your understanding is wrong.

  • Snertly on July 11, 2011 6:47 PM:

    Cantor backed out of leading the push when he realized he couldn't complete the mugging without getting blood on his hands, i.e. be perceived as holding US's credit rating hostage for an extremist expression of ideology with the bottom line cost being charged to social services.

    Not to mention that Cantor is also invested in short selling America, so if US defaults on its debt, Cantor's portfolio will grow.

    Boehner already knows this and is waiting for the cohorts to figure out a way to achieve compromise without losing face. Problem is their individual initiative is hamstrung by things like Norquist's pledge and Tea Party volatility.

    A high road approach would achieve real compromise by keeping the target for reduction but splitting the costs between Bush tax cuts and social services. Breaking the pledge en masse breaks Norquist's trap, and lets Republicans present it as noblesse oblige. The rich take a hit for the good of the team, as the rest of us did when the housing bubble burst, and they'll be better positioned for down the road no matter how it plays out.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 11, 2011 7:59 PM:

    Everybody apoplectic about the idiocy of Cantor's remarks is just tilting at windmills. Tea-publicans aren't serious about this. They and Cantor are just giving the ditto-heads talking points for lunch time and water cooler conversations. Republicans are hellbent on taking this country down, and they're going to do it.

  • Stephen Stralka on July 11, 2011 8:12 PM:

    Unfortunately it seems that Obama and the Democrats might have to give up on saving the economy and instead put their efforts into making sure they don't get blamed if worse comes to worse. Cantor, fortunately, is making that easier.

    It's perfectly clear, after all, that the Democrats really want to raise the debt ceiling and the Republicans think it's optional. So if we don't raise the ceiling in time, and the economy really does blow up, at least Obama and the Democrats can truthfully say that they tried to prevent this but the Republicans said No.

  • Mike on July 11, 2011 8:27 PM:

    Exactly, it's extorsion plain and simple. I'm not sure Obama couldn't lock them up. At the worst its treason and they could be given the death penalty. But, wait only the Republicans are for that... But he could torture them given their rules...

  • Dave E. on July 11, 2011 9:35 PM:

    "Democrats will accept a lot of cuts if Republicans accept a little revenue."

    I'll bite: Exactly what "a lot of cuts" for exactly what "little revenue" and exactly how is all that cut into stone?

  • Pairofpants on July 11, 2011 9:40 PM:

    Tea party is dragging both major parties to the right, and nobody has a clue how to stop them.

  • zeitgeist on July 11, 2011 10:00 PM:

    and nobody has a clue how to stop them.

    Oh, I doubt that. I suspect the members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce know exactly how to stop them -- they just haven't reached the point of playing their ace yet.

    "Mr. Cantor, those folks who have time to go to so-called Tea Party rallies aren't in a position to employ a lot of jobless Congressmen. If you lose control of those yahoos, you're going to lose. And more importantly, when you lose, you wont get that cushy K-Street job you've always wanted. You want that, you do what we need. And what we don't need is a default that makes our stock worthless and leaves us unable to get credit. Am I clear?"

    When that conversation happens with all of the non-Freshmen Republicans,the dragging will stop.

  • JM917 on July 11, 2011 10:04 PM:

    However this turns out--Obama and the Senate Democrats being forced to capitulate to the House Republicans' ruinous, wicked, and absurd demands under threat of the nation going into default, or the nation going into default because Obama and the Senate Democrats refuse to capitulate the House Republicans' ruinous, wicked, and absurd demands--I am beginning to seriously fear for the future of the United States of America and of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    I smell the whiff of protracted depression (not mere recession), political repression by an empowered and ruthless Republican Party and its Supreme Court enablers...and further down the road, violence that will make the Long, Hot Summers of the 1960s and the labor unrest of the Gilded Age look tame.

  • MIss Ayn Thrope on July 11, 2011 10:10 PM:

    Really? Cantor surprise you on this? He has been playing Bad Cop to Boehner's seeming good cop for forever.

  • JM917 on July 11, 2011 10:20 PM:

    @ FRP: Kevo's right about mentioning Cantor's little hedge. And you're right also that Cantor (with his lobbyist/banker wife) is a millionaire already.

    But look at it this way: If the US defaults, even millionaires will be wiped out. However, in that case Cantor's measly little $15,000 short-sell bet on the US economy collapsing will explode in value probably sufficient to cover all his losses.

    That's the scale of what a default could mean.

    I assume that the wise Ryan has also discussed such contingencies with his hedge-fund and U. Chicago buddies over their $700-wine luncheon. Ryan probably has himself similarly covered. Otherwise he'd better start getting used to Gallo.

  • Al Walter on July 11, 2011 10:33 PM:

    Steve, I read your comments every day and generally agree with your views. But you need to stop saying that the Republican leaders and candidates are "confused", "not the sharpest knife in the kitchen", and "deranged". They did not get to positions of leadership by being idiots. Just because their actions and comments appear illogical, does not mean they do not know what they are doing. I think it means the Right's objectives are so foreign, that the Left is unable to understand or believe where we could end up. Consider that while Fascism and Nazism seem almost unbelievable to us in the 21st century, the citizens of Italy and Germany must have thought it all made perfect sense. So the next time Cantor or someone else on the Right seems "confused", assume he is intelligent and ask yourself "Why would he say this?", "What are his final goals?" and "How does this comment advance his position?".

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  • rbateaus on July 12, 2011 4:03 AM:

    This use of the debt limit as a blunt instrument to extract Republican goals is just one piece of a structural change going on in government as the result of pure ideology. In the last 10 years we've seen the filibuster being used for all controversial legislation. We have complete obstructionism in the appointment of public officials. We now have a Supreme Court that is openly political. And we have no restrictions on corporate money coming into political campaigns. Add to all of this is the refusal of Republicans to allow for any tax increases or to compromise on anything. All of this is the new normal and you just have to wonder how government is going to function in the future. It's sure hard to see a way out of this mess. Certainly the voters don't seem to know or care what's going on.

  • TheoLib on July 12, 2011 6:17 AM:

    For those who think raising the debt ceiling is for future spending, remember that a big chunk of future spending is paying off the existing debt and interest.

    And I agree with zeitgeist:

    ... there will never be a clean debt ceiling bill again. because the Senate and President wouldn't insist on one when it was challenged. that genie escaped on a watch that was mainly staffed by Democrats.

    Shameful.

  • j on July 12, 2011 7:26 AM:

    So many people are taking shots at the president for bargaining with the GOP, I would ask them 'Did you come out to vote in the mid-terms?' Democrats were asleep at the wheel when they let the repubs take control of the house, now they are whining at Obama.

  • Marko on July 12, 2011 7:27 AM:

    But you need to stop saying that the Republican leaders and candidates are "confused", "not the sharpest knife in the kitchen", and "deranged". - Al Walter

    These are just Steve's euphemisms for, "They're lying".

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