Least Valuable Player: Rep. Eric Cantor

By James Fallows
225px-Eric_Cantor,_official_portrait,_112th_Congress.jpg

I've complained in the past about Sen. Richard Shelby's willful veto of Peter Diamond's nomination as a Fed governor, and about Sen. Mitch McConnell's intentional stall of nominees across the board, as a passive-aggressive way to hamstring the Administration.

Both of them now give way to Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader (official Congressional photo, via Wikipedia, right), who in walking out of the talks to avoid a default on U.S. debt gives as clear an example of petty-ambition-over-national-interest as we've seen in public life in quite a while.

The Atlantic Wire provides background for the move, and Ezra Klein makes the motivations clear. Cantor was happy to stay in the negotiations through the budget-cutting stage. But as soon as the unavoidable other part of the negotiations began -- finding ways to raise revenue -- he chickened out and left the hard work (for a Republican) to House Speaker John Boehner. As Klein accurately sums up it:

>>Cantor has the credibility with the Tea Party that Boehner lacks. But that's why Cantor won't cut the deal. The Tea Party-types support him because he's the guy who won't cut the deal. He can't sign off on tax increases without losing his power base....

If you had to write a plausible scenario for how America defaults on its debt, or at least seriously spooks the market, this is how it would start....

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.<<

I am on the record, over the years, as a big believer in America's resilient powers. But there are mistakes so large that they can badly hurt even the United States. A petulant demonstration to the rest of the world that we can't meet the baseline obligation we expect of any two-bit duchy -- that it will face its financial problems and honor its sovereign debt -- would be a big, damaging step in the wrong direction. Good for John Boehner in recognizing that more than his own ambitions are at stake here. If the default actually comes, and markets panic, and interest rates for everything shoot up, keep the courageous Rep. Cantor in mind on that day.

[After the jump: Cantor's explanation of why he walked out.]

Cantor's explanation:

>>[E]ach side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases. There is not support in the House for a tax increase, and I don't believe now is the time to raise taxes in light of our current economic situation. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue. Given this impasse, I will not be participating in today's meeting and I believe it is time for the President to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue.<<

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/06/least-valuable-player-rep-eric-cantor/240931/