You are hereTalking Points Memo: Cantor’s Last Stand? GOP Leader Will Own Debt Talks Gridlock

Talking Points Memo: Cantor’s Last Stand? GOP Leader Will Own Debt Talks Gridlock

-By Susan Crabtree

July 15, 2011- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has the weight of the world -- not to mention the full faith and credit of the United States -- on his shoulders these days.

The House Republicans' second in command has almost single-handedly stymied progress on a grand deal to produce $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the course of the next dozen years by flat-out rejecting any net tax increases be included, leaving no path for Democrats to negotiate a balanced bargain that allows some cuts to programs for seniors and the poor coupled with tax hikes on the wealthy.

If he successfully moves talks away from tax cuts and the two sides reach a deal to slash spending significantly, he'll be a hero in the eyes of many House Republicans. But this high-profile, high stakes maneuvering has a major downside. If Cantor overplays his hand and the U.S. fails to meet its deadline for raising the debt limit, stocks could take a tumble, the economy could slide and the American people would have a prime culprit right before them to blame.

Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spent Thursday painting Cantor as the face of gridlock in Washington and the fall guy if debt talks deteriorate, the U.S. defaults and Social Security checks stop going out to seniors.

But if he's stressed out in any way, Cantor's not showing it. After locking horns with President Obama Wednesday night, he returned to the Capitol and relayed the story of Obama storming out of the meeting unruffled.

"He said to me, 'Eric, don't call my bluff. I'm going to the American people with this,'" Cantor said.

"I was somewhat taken aback," he told reporters before flashing a quick smile.

Unlike previous House GOP leaders such as Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay (R-TX), Cantor is harder to demonize. He's relatively young, press-friendly and articulate.

"He's not a very likely villain," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who worked closely with Cantor when both had a seat at the House GOP leadership table nearly seven years ago. "He's a policy person and was very serious about getting into the meat of the issues -- sought and won a seat on the Ways and Means Committee -- a very substantive panel."

Cantor is simply representing his conference, which is dead-set against any tax increases, Portman told TPM.



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