Maxed Out? Cantor Says It’s ‘Crunch Time’ on Debt Limit Talks, Calls on Obama to Engage on ‘Tough Stuff’

Jun 21, 2011 4:11pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:

Heading into the first of up to four pivotal negotiations this week on deficit reduction, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared “it is crunch time now” and that as the negotiations tighten “it’s time for the president to step up.”

“Everything that we’ve discussed has led to the point now that we are in some very tough discussions right now, and you know, as we approach July, where there’s not much time now if we’re going to come to see some agreement, I would just call on the president to be willing to make some of these tough decisions now,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “The president has not seemed willing to engage and say that he’s willing to do the tough stuff with us.”

Cantor said the bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Vice President Joe Biden, continues to discuss reforms to mandatory spending programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as discretionary spending with “big changes to popular programs, but frankly the right medicine we need to try and begin to bend the curve back towards not having to spend the money we don’t have.”

The group of bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers is expected to meet up to four times this week to narrow the divide on the remaining sticking points.

“We have hit the point of which we are at some really tough stuff. Big numbers, everything as I’ve said before is on the table except tax increases,” Cantor told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “This is an opportunity for us to try and right-size the spending direction…to make sure that we stop spending money the way we have — the money we don’t have — and begin to reform the system so we can have real changes here, and that’s what the people have sent us for.”

“The onus is really on the president and his party I think to step up and show they’re willing to do that, because we’ve said all along it is as reckless for us to just check the box and raise the debt limit and not reform the system and cut spending, as it is for us to just abandon the thing altogether,” he added.

On Saturday, President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Biden and Ohio Governor John Kasich went golfing at Joint Base Andrews' golf course in Maryland. The occasion was intended to be social, and the politicians did not formally discuss the debate on the debt limit.

Asked whether the group was considering cutting subsidies for the agriculture or oil and gas industries, Cantor said a final deal would likely include “equal opportunity cuts” across the board but added that the potential revenue raised by ending subsidies pales in comparison to the level of savings being negotiated by the small group of lawmakers and makes him “wonder is this is about policy and substance or is this about politics.”

“We have all said that everything should be on the table. [Democrats] continue to say we need to raise taxes. My position has been very solid: we are not raising taxes. There are no votes to raise taxes in the House. At the end of the day a debt ceiling increase has got to pass the House of Representatives,” Cantor said. “The people that put us here are looking to see that we have changed the way the system works so that we’re no longer spending money that we don’t have, living by the same standard that most people live in their households and their businesses.”

Cantor said Republicans are trying to produce “a recipe for a return to growth” by reining in spending, providing the markets with certainty that the country will not default on its financial obligations, and by creating sound policies for the future.

“We’ve got to hold out growth as the goal long-term here, because that’s how you get people back to work,” Cantor said. “It’s not easy for anybody to have to inflict this kind of fiscal discipline but it has to be done.”

Cantor would not specify whether Social Security reform should be considered in the context of the negotiations but reiterated his call for President Obama and the Democrats to “step up” and lead.

“[Republicans] have done a lot of stepping up here in some of the proverbial third rails of politics all year long now for almost six months, and [Democrats] have not shown that kind of leadership. I’m hoping these talks can result in both of us realizing we’re going to have to do this together in order to right the situation and live within our means,” Cantor said. “This is a moment in time that will demand bold action. I mean, that’s why it’s so important that we have the fortitude to go about doing big things here.”

“Everything that we know drives this deficit pose some potential peril for all of us on both sides of the aisle, if you want to just talk politics,” Cantor added. “If you want to talk about policy, I think that what we can do in the end is maintain the kind of safety net for those who need it in this country and protect today’s seniors and others who rely on that safety net, but to put us on a course that makes sense, that has long-term viability.”

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