There is, alas, a growing number of congressional Republicans who believe failing to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t be a big deal. These lawmakers have fallen “under the spell of an unorthodox group of financial experts who dispute the views of their peers and say that the U.S. could default briefly on debt payments without major, lasting consequences to the U.S. economy and international markets.”

A senior administration official recently noted, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

I suppose it counts as progress when the House Majority Leader at least agrees the bears exist and that getting eaten by them would be a bad thing.

Asked if August 2 is the absolute deadline to reach an agreement or whether the date is an arbitrary target set by the Treasury Department, Cantor did not challenge the deadline.

“Secretary Geithner feels August 2 is his deadline,” Cantor told ABC News in an exclusive interview for the Subway Series with Jonathan Karl. “I don’t question the Secretary of the Treasury other than to say we’re trying to get in place real spending reductions — trillions of dollars of spending reductions — if the president wants us to increase the credit limit of this country by trillions of dollars.”

The statement could put Cantor at odds with many House conservatives who have expressed suspicion and doubt over the administration’s warning that the deadline to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling is August 2.

So, Cantor realizes there’s a deadline, accepts the administration’s timeframe, and is looking to reach an agreement. In our deeply bizarre political world, this represents a sort of progress. Take that for what you will.

But let’s also not brush past the ongoing hostage strategy, which remains unchanged. Cantor, who repeatedly voted to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions during the Bush/Cheney era, isn’t at all embarrassed about demanding “trillions of dollars of spending reductions.” And if those demands aren’t met, Cantor and his party intend to create a recession on purpose.

In 2011, all progress is relative.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.