Dealing with Debt
Boehner-Cantor rivalry spills over into debt-limit debate
A long simmering rivalry between the two top House Republicans has tumbled into the open, with far reaching implications for deficit-reduction negotiations with the White House.
Tribune Washington bureau
Debt-ceiling negotiationsPresident Obama will meet Tuesday with congressional leaders at the White House for the third straight day to try to break a partisan deadlock over efforts to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
Working against an Aug. 2 deadline, Obama challenged Republicans on Monday to embrace a sweeping deficit-reduction plan aimed at cutting federal budget deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years. But Republican leaders of the House of Representatives remained insistent that they won't raise taxes.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the two sides remained at odds over taxes and spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A long simmering rivalry between the two top House Republicans has tumbled into the open, with far reaching implications for deficit-reduction negotiations with the White House.
The two Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, are at odds over President Obama's call for a deficit-reduction package to address fiscal problems and provide for an increase in the country's borrowing limit before an Aug. 2 deadline.
In private talks with the White House, Boehner favored a large package as part of pragmatic political deal-making. But Cantor, speaking for the staunch conservatives in Congress who dislike federal spending, is opposed.
In a briefing Monday, Cantor downplayed the divisions, insisting repeatedly that he and the speaker were "on the same page." But friction between the two has become obvious, reinforcing months-old questions over who controls the Republicans in Congress.
Obama praised Boehner in a nationally televised news conference Monday as he warned that a budget agreement would only become more difficult with time. "Do it now," Obama said. "Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas."
However, Cantor and the political right seemed to be dictating the course of talks. Their pressure forced Boehner over the weekend to abandon his support for doing "something big" on the federal budget and cast Cantor as the champion of the conservative flank.
"Boehner is facing a similar problem to that Gingrich faced in 1995-1996 — he can't control the rebels in the caucus who helped him gain power," said Princeton University Professor Julian Zelizer, referring to Newt Gingrich, who was House speaker then. "The debt ceiling has turned into as much of a test for the GOP and its internal leadership as it is for which party is stronger."
At a private meeting of Republicans last week, one rank-and-file lawmaker urged colleagues not to criticize leaders publicly, lest the GOP appear to be in disarray.
Cantor appears to be the brainy and ambitious of the two, and is younger. He is a political enthusiast, easily animated. Boehner wears his power more subtly, behind cigarettes and an old-school cool. The Ohioan mocks Cantor's Italian loafers.
In many ways, it is a one-way rivalry. Yet, because power is ever-shifting in Washington, Cantor's ascent has put Boehner on guard. The House is overwhelmingly conservative, especially with the tea party's advent.
Cantor declined to challenge Boehner for the speaker's job when the Republicans won control of the chamber last fall. But as a tide of conservatives arrived in the House this year, Cantor aligned himself with them. He lavished attention and campaign money on other members. In what was widely seen as an affront to Boehner, he published a book with two other rising GOP leaders titled "Young Guns." Boehner made hardly a cameo.
The older vanguard in the Republican House stands by Boehner. Cantor is sometimes seen as less personable. Yet even among veteran lawmakers, the pressure from the right flank is so strong that it influences their loyalties.
On Sunday night, as congressional leaders met with Obama, Cantor did most of the talking for the GOP, according to aides familiar with the meeting.
"I can tell you that so far, Congressman Cantor has been running the show on the Republican side — almost exclusively — and he has about played out his hand," said a Democrat who was in the White House meeting Monday.
But others suggested that Boehner is simply speaking briefly, and is comfortable delegating. "Boehner is someone who doesn't feel compelled to be the center of attention all of the time," said David Winston, an adviser to House leadership who says the men work well together.
Boehner decided earlier this year to put Cantor in charge of an initial round of debt talks with the White House. It was an opportunity to delegate and also represented a test for Cantor.
Vice President Joseph Biden, who led the talks, expressed surprise at how much he enjoyed working with him. "For real." Biden said. "The guy's smart as hell."
But Cantor withdrew from the talks last month, objecting to what he described as Democratic insistence on tax increases.
The withdrawal also came the morning after Boehner met, unannounced, with Obama. Cantor said he was quitting the talks in an early-morning interview, alerting the speaker just hours before the news broke.
To the conservative GOP flank, he had emerged as their champion.
Cantor is taking a risk by appearing to counter Boehner in a chamber that values team players. When lawmakers chose a new speaker to follow Gingrich, they passed over his chief rival, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, and chose Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
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