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Cantor Re-Emerges as Key Negotiator

Tom Williams/Roll Call

To anyone who will listen, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has an unequivocal message: He and Speaker John Boehner “are on the same page.”

The Virginia Republican on Monday did his best to brush aside questions about his relationship with Boehner, saying there is no daylight between them in the debt limit negotiations.

“The Speaker and I are on the same page. We don’t believe we should be raising taxes,” Cantor said during his weekly meeting with reporters.

Cantor — who quit negotiations with Vice President Joseph Biden last month, saying the issue of taxes needed to be kicked up to a higher level between the Speaker and President Barack Obama — has found himself back in the spotlight on the debt talks after Boehner abruptly rejected a “grand bargain” with Obama over the weekend.

That turn of events fueled speculation that neither Cantor nor Boehner wanted to be seen as owning a deal to increase the debt limit and that both were actively working to put the blame on each other.

“I really think it is a hot potato,” one GOP aide speculated. “Nobody knows which way the ball is going to bounce, and they’re just trying to not be the one that kicked it.”

Last week, the center of gravity seemed to shift to Boehner, who returned from a White House meeting Thursday seemingly positive about a deal and went so far as to speak to the Senate Republican Conference about it.

But that dynamic shifted Saturday evening after Boehner put out his statement rejecting the grand bargain, and word began to leak out that the talks would refocus on the work that Cantor had done with Biden. Should Cantor and Biden resume their negotiations, Cantor would again find himself as the top House Republican negotiating a deal that none of his base is in favor of — a move that could, in theory, clear Boehner of some of the responsibility for the final agreement.

Cantor, however, repeatedly rejected that idea Monday. “We are in the same place” on the issue, Cantor said, arguing that Boehner’s decision to reject the grand bargain was an effort to “address the big issues facing the country” without raising taxes.

The Majority Leader even went so far as to defend Boehner’s private talks with Obama — which reportedly included discussions of possibly decoupling the Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for a promise of later comprehensive tax reform.

“The Speaker never agreed to that. He never agreed to the trillion dollars of new taxes. Again, my sense is that is why those talks ended is because he just couldn’t get the administration off of the fact that they want to raise taxes,” he said.

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