Eric Cantor seems to be the current unofficial leader of the Republican Party. PHOTO: Reuters
Eric Cantor made an offer to the White House on debt ceiling negotiations: a three-month extension to allow time for the Senate and House to pass budgets. Mitch McConnell Republican Minority Leader of the Senate released a statement, also tying debt ceiling negotiations to the budget. It's a clever move, and it will be interesting to see how the White House responds. It's also a sign that Republicans don't like their current bargaining position, but see some room to manuever a few months down the road.
There are three interesting components to Cantor and McConnell's offer: what they are offering, who is doing the offering, and how they are reframing the debt ceiling debate. The biggest story here might not be the offer itself, but who is doing the offering (last paragraph if you want to jump to the chase).
That Republicans are now trying to tie the debt ceiling to the budget represents a shift in strategy. Until Cantor's offer, the debt ceiling was tied in time and general category to the sequester cuts, which are due to happen automatically in March unless a deal is reached. Given that what Republicans are angling for in all of these negotiations are cuts, one would think the automatic sequester cuts were a perfect leveraging tool, in the same way that the automatic tax increases of the badly named "fiscal cliff" gave Obama all the leverage he needed. So why are Republicans trying to push the debt ceiling debate away from the sequester cuts? Because half of those cuts are to the defense department, and arguing to maintain defense spending while cutting social security and medicare is politically ver dicey.
So, Republicans decided to retreat into the late Spring and to the general budget, where they have some political clout and flexibility. With the House able to pass all the entitlement slashing budgets they want, and the Senate hamstrung by Democrats having a majority but not a super-majority (60 votes), House Republicans could make a plausible case that they are doing their job while Senate Democrats have to scrounge for five Republican votes to both pass a budget and raise the debt ceiling. That's a strategic position that Republicans, especially these Republicans, have thrived in.
Obama wants a raise in the debt ceiling of at least two years, and Cantor's offer is likely a non-starter for him.
Which leads me to my last point: Cantor's offer. John Boehner seems to have ceded control of the Republican party. Up through the fiscal cliff negotiations, he was the top negotiator for Republicans, but since then he has said that he doesn't want to negotiate with Obama one-on-one, and he was already having a hard enough time getting Tea Party Republicans, of whom Cantor is the unofficial leader, to agree to any kind of compromise with the White House. If this offer is any kind of turning point, it may not be in the debt ceiling negotiations, but in that this is the clearest sign that the Republican party is now the party of Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan (with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz getting an early start on their presidential runs). No deals will be struck in the next month, but it will be quite telling who is making the offers.
Eric Cantor Taking The Reins From John Boehner As Leader Of The Republican Party