Debt and Taxes: Eric Cantor's Hot Potato Game With Boehner

What's really going on? Maybe Cantor doesn't want to be the one raising taxes

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has pulled out of the bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden over raising the federal debt ceiling. Cantor told The Wall Street Journal's Janet Hook and Corey Boles that he quit the negotiations because he couldn't agree to tax increases Democrats were pushing despite both parties agreeing on $2 trillion in spending cuts. But why did he really bail? It might have something to do with him being frenemies with House Speaker John Boehner--Cantor might want Boehner to be the one making deals over raising taxes, not him.

"We've reached the point where the dynamic needs to change,'' Cantor told the Journal. "It is up to the president to come in and talk to the speaker. We've reached the end of this phase." Cantor, who just yesterday was praising the Biden group, explained that at Wednesday's meeting talks stalled repeatedly over raising taxes, an issue Biden had steered the group away from for the past six weeks. That issue can't be ignored anymore, the Republican said. But why insist it can only be dealt with by Obama and Boehner? Politico's David Rogers reports that even some Republican leaders were surprised by the decision.

When the Cantor news broke, NBC News' Chuck Todd tweeted, "Folks who watch the Boehner-Cantor relationship closely realize this move by Cantor is an interesting plot twist in their friendly rivalry." Likewise, an anonymous Democratic aide told Talking Point's Memo's Benjy Sarlin, "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."

Sure, it's expected that Democrats would take shots at Republicans, but Reuters' Felix Salmon argues,

Cantor's point seems to be that he is incapable of talking about tax hikes as part of the deficit-reduction negotiations with Joe Biden; instead, the only way such a conversation can take place is if it's between Barack Obama and John Boehner. ...

Something has to give, and he doesn’t want to be in the room when that happens: he's kicking responsibility over to Boehner instead.

Let's say the Obama-Boehner meeting happens. If Boehner does give in on taxes--and that's a big if--then will Cantor and the rest of the House Republicans fall loyally in line and vote for such things? That’s far from a foregone conclusion.

Slate's Dave Weigel says Cantor's statement "sounds like Cantor wants the president to suit up and tell the country whether or not he wants to raise taxes, as he's saying in the room. There's a whiff of Br'er rabbit about this--if Obama called for tax hikes on people making, say, over $500,000 (as Kathy Hochul called for), he'd be calling for something that most voters support."

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