By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
No wonder it’s been so hard to reach a deal with President Obama on the budget: Congressional leaders around the table are too busy wrestling with each other: even members of their own party.
Indeed, as we’ve learned, the biggest obstacle to achieving a major deficit-reduction deal is not getting Democrats and Republicans to agree. It’s getting Republican House leaders to agree among themselves — on anything. According to those inside the White House summit meetings, every time John Boehner says yes, Eric Cantor says no.
Publicly, Boehner and Cantor insist they are Soul Brothers. They’re two sides of the same coin. They agree on everything. Baloney! That’s clearly not the case.
It was Cantor, not Boehner, who was assigned to take part in the budget negotiations led by Vice-President Joe Biden. And it was Cantor who walked out — saying, in effect: Let John Boehner deal with this. I don’t want anything to do with it.
Along the way, it was Boehner, not Cantor, who agreed with Obama that there had to be some new increases in revenue — otherwise known as tax adjustments — as part of any long-term budget deal. But Cantor dug in his heels and said: No way, Jose.
It was Speaker John Boehner, not Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who several times met privately with the president and ended up agreeing to the broad outlines of a massive $4 trillion deficit-reduction package made up of a combination of cuts and tax reforms. That represented a huge win for Republicans, which conservative columnist David Brooks called, “the mother of all no-brainers.” But, once again, Cantor said no — and Boehner was forced to embarrass himself and the entire Republican caucus by calling President Obama at Camp David over the Fourth of July weekend and telling him the deal was off.
And, in one of the most recent White House summits, it was Cantor who repeatedly interrupted President Obama, demanding that Congress walk away from any long-term solution and instead pass a series of short-term debt-ceiling hikes over the next 18 months: a copout that Obama, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have publicly rejected. Obama finally walked out of the room. Boehner said nothing.
Does anyone still believe Boehner and Cantor are on the same page? As Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn quipped on MSNBC, “If they’ve got a good relationship, I don’t want to see a bad one.”
Cantor, in fact, doesn’t seem to have grown up much since he graduated from high school, when he summed up his approach to life with this quote: “I want what I want when I want it.” Today he wants to be speaker so badly he’ll shut down the government if he thinks that’s what it takes to get it.
According to Congressional Democrats, Cantor may have another motive for not raising the debt ceiling. Several House Democrats have circulated a resolution questioning Cantor’s investment in ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury ETF, a fund that “takes a short position in long-dated government bonds.” In effect, Cantor is betting against U.S. government bonds. If the United States does default on its debts, the value of his investment would increase substantially. Which raises at least the appearance of a serious conflict of interest.
And caught in the middle is poor John Boehner. Not only can he not deliver his own caucus. He can’t even deliver his own number two guy. Because, as everybody on Capitol Hill knows, Cantor is not really number two anymore. In everything but name only, he’s number one.
It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who has the trust and confidence of tea party freshmen. It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who’s calling the shots. It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who will ultimately decide what Republicans in the House will accept, and what they will not. And there’s nothing John Boehner can do about it. Because he knows that the power-hungry Cantor has a switchblade in hand, ready to stab him in the back at the first opportunity.
The problem for the nation is that President Obama will never be able to make a deal to raise the debt ceiling and make a significant down payment on the deficit until Republicans resolve their intramural squabbling. So John Boehner should simply resign and let Eric Cantor take over, after all, Cantor’s already acting as speaker. He might as well have the title.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.