Now that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is effectively negotiating on behalf of all Republican lawmakers, he’s taking the lead in recommending specific cuts during talks at the White House.

The House majority leader, who did most of the talking for the Republican side, said those taking out student loans should start paying interest right away, rather than being able to defer payments until after graduation. It is a big-ticket item that would save $40 billion over 10 years.

At one point, sources say, President Obama pushed back against the mounting menu of spending cuts while the tax column on the negotiating sheets remained blank. He asked the Republican leaders how they expected him to take their proposals seriously.

“I’m not going to do that,” Obama said. “I’m not going to take money from old people and screw students,” not without some compromise on the tax-increase side.

Some Republican senators have pushed to have these debt-reduction talks “in the light of day,” instead of behind closed doors, so the public can see what both parties are willing to fight for. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) said of the Democratic approach, “What they’re advocating for, I don’t think would be popular.”

Democrats should be so lucky as to have the country watch this process unfold and see exactly which priorities the parties are willing to fight for.

In this case, Zaid Jilani explained, “Cantor’s proposal comes at a time when American students are already overwhelmed by student loan debt. In 2008, the average debt that a college student graduated with was a whopping $23,000. American students continue to pay more than most of their developed world neighbors for a college education, and Cantor apparently wants to make it even more difficult for them while not touching the richest Americans.”

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.