Midday yesterday, commenting on the downgrade decision, President Obama told the public that fiscal “reforms” don’t require “any radical steps.” What’s needed, he said, is “common sense and compromise.” The problem, Obama added, is “a lack of political will in Washington. It’s the insistence on drawing lines in the sand, a refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology. And that’s what we need to change.”
Around the same time the president was making these remarks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was sharing a message of his own with his fellow GOP caucus members. As one might imagine, Cantor had a very different objective in mind.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Republican lawmakers to expect, and resist, increased pressure to raise taxes following the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard and Poor’s.
“Over the next several months, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress to prove that S&P’s analysis of the inability of the political parties to bridge our differences is wrong,” Cantor wrote in a memo Monday to House Republicans. “In short, there will be pressure to compromise on tax increases. We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.”
In the same statement, Cantor added that this position — no tax increases on anyone at any time by any amount — is “what we must demand from the Joint Committee as it begins its work.”
Soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement endorsing this line, declaring that “raising taxes is simply the wrong approach.”
The rhetoric isn’t surprising, but the context is critically important. Standard & Poor’s downgraded American debt just a few days ago and raised some specific concerns to justify the decision. Namely, the S&P analysis pointed to, among other things, the partisan gridlock in Congress caused by Republicans, and the fact that “the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.”
This, in turn, has led the top two Republicans in the House to urge their allies to prove S&P right. GOP officials caused this mess, and as of yesterday, they’re apparently eager to make it worse. This isn’t something they’re especially embarrassed about — hell, they’re proud of it.
The contrast between the statements should be pretty illustrative to anyone paying attention. On Monday afternoon, President Obama said what matters is doing the right thing for the country. The same afternoon, Cantor said what really matters is making sure no one ever has to pay an additional penny in taxes, regardless of the consequences to the country.
Given this, try to make the case that Eric Cantor is principally concerned with the nation’s best interests, above all else. Go ahead, try. Let’s hear the case that the oft-confused House Majority Leader is putting country over ideology.
I’m all ears.