It was just last week that Vice-President Joe Biden, who has been leading bi-partisan talks on reducing the debt enough to convince House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, predicted that a deal would be in place by July 4. But negotiations hit a bump today when Republican congressman Eric Cantor pulled out of the group, claiming that the two sides had reached an impasse over taxes and suggesting that it was time for President Obama and Speaker John Boehner to figure it out between themselves. Since the beginning of the negotiations, Democrats have insisted that significant debt reduction can't happen without some tax increases, while Republicans have insisted with equal adamance that drastic spending cuts alone would suffice.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
"We've reached the point where the dynamic needs to change,'' Mr. Cantor said. "It is up to the president to come in and talk to the speaker. We've reached the end of this phase. Now is the time for these talks to go into abeyance."
Still, Mr. Cantor remained optimistic about the prospects for a deal. He said the Biden group had already made significant progress and had tentatively identified more than $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. But he said there could be no agreement on an overall package without breaking the impasse between Republicans' refusal to accept any tax increase, and Democrats insistence that some tax increases be part of the deal.
With little more than a month until the federal government reaches the debt ceiling on August 2 and the economy collapses, this isn't great news. But it may say less about the prospects of a deal than Cantor's willingness to be part of that deal. As TPM reports:
If tax increases are approved in a final deal, it could be politically beneficial for Cantor to not have his fingerprints on it. Indeed, some observers quickly suggested Cantor has a strong ulterior motive in avoiding elements of the negotiation that sit poorly with the GOP base.
"Eric Cantor just threw Boehner under the bus," a senior Democratic aide bluntly told TPM. "This move is an admission that there will be a need for revenues in the final deal to cut our deficit, and Cantor doesn't want to be the one to make that deal."
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein agrees:
Cantor is putting personal power before country here, and in a very dangerous way. If Boehner actually does manage to cut a decent deal despite Cantor’s effort to throw him under the bus, he may not hold on as leader of his party, but unlike Cantor, he’ll deserve to. For better or worse, this is when we learn whether anyone on the Republican Party’s leadership team is actually prepared to lead.
For now, we can rule out Cantor.
Update: Arizona senator Jon Kyl has dropped out as well, leaving zero Republicans in the group.