House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is determined his involvement in bipartisan debt limit talks won't be for naught.
Despite public doubts expressed by none other than the Speaker that the group will not be able to meet the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, the Virginia Republican said Thursday in an interview with Roll Call that he is playing an important role in laying the groundwork for a final deal.
Cantor has a lot at stake in the negotiations, given his role as House Republicans' conservative standard-bearer in talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden. He maintained that the group has engaged in serious discussions, which have already pinpointed "well over $1 trillion" in cuts.
"We've been very substantive in those discussions, trying to keep the politics out of it, because I think all of us understand the philosophical perspective we bring to the table," Cantor said. "I think they have been productive, and there's a lot of information that's being shared and a lot of potential for progress."
The six-term lawmaker also continues to insist cutting Medicare remains a part of the discussion, despite calls from Senate Democrats who say reforming the entitlement program should not be a condition for raising the debt ceiling.
Cutting Medicare isn't the only controversial decision under discussion. Cantor said Medicaid, non-health care mandatory programs, discretionary spending and other reforms must all be on the table.
"None of it's easy when you're talking about reducing spending and changing the trajectory of a mandatory program or getting rid of it," Cantor said, adding that he believes there is a way forward by taking apart the federal budget piece by piece.
Still, there is widespread acknowledgment that President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will craft the ultimate agreement. Boehner last week cast doubt on the Biden group's ability to come to an agreement within the month, saying the slow pace of the talks threatened to create brinkmanship if they did not soon come to a resolution. Boehner also said he was ready to begin engaging directly with the White House, separate from the Biden negotiations.
Cantor dismissed the notion that those talks would undercut him and said he supports higher-level discussions.
"We hopefully will have the will to go ahead and force some consensus that's got to happen, but the thinking always was the Speaker and the president would have a discussion to sort of bring it all together," Cantor said.
Boehner echoed Cantor's sentiments Friday, telling reporters he wants the talks to continue and that the Majority Leader has done "good work" as the House Republican's only representative at the table.
In part, having Cantor engage with the bipartisan group instead of having the Speaker go it alone might be an important strategy for House Republican leaders to keep their rank and file on board with the final product. The Conference registered its displeasure earlier this year when top staff to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal on the continuing resolution to fund the government. That agreement to cut $38.5 billion was met with broad criticism from conservatives in the House who felt it did not sufficiently cut spending and was crafted without their input. The House had passed a bill that cut $60 billion.
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