By Mike Lillis - 06/23/11 06:42 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) decision to withdraw from bipartisan budget talks demonstrates the influence of anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist over the Republican Party, a leading Democrat charged Thursday.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a participant in the debt talks being led by Vice President Biden, said he was “disappointed” Cantor left the talks and accused GOP leaders of being more interested in pleasing Norquist than they are balancing budgets.
“The reality here is that, until our Republican colleagues are more concerned about the need to reduce the deficit than they're worried about what Grover Norquist will say, we're going to have a really difficult time reducing the deficit,” Van Hollen told reporters during a press conference in the Capitol.
Cantor said he won’t return to the table until President Obama addresses “the tax issue.”
“Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue,” Cantor said in a statement.
The negotiators were scheduled to meet Thursday – a gathering that was canceled following Cantor's announcement.
Van Hollen remained largely silent on the specific tax hikes the Democrats have pushed for during the negotiations, making only a passing reference to “a menu of eliminating different kinds of special interest tax breaks and dealing with tax exemptions for the very wealthy.”
“Yes, we have put proposals on the table to say for folks at the very high end we believe there's a responsible way to phase out some of those deductions,” Van Hollen said.
“Even now I'm not going to get into the details,” he added.
Later, however, Van Hollen mentioned agriculture subsidies as one area Democrats are eying seriously.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested Cantor overreacted by quitting the talks as both sides were claiming progress toward a deal.
“Yes, we do want to reduce tax subsidies for Big Oil [and] we want to remove tax breaks for corporations that send jobs overseas — that list goes on,” Pelosi said. “I don't know that that's a reason to walk away from the table.”
Van Hollen noted that even many conservative economists are calling for tax hikes to be a part of any effort to rein in soaring deficits and balance the budget.
“The framework that's been put out by different bipartisan groups say that you need to ask for shared sacrifice,” Van Hollen said.
He said the negotiations “had been proceeding well,” but he was quick to concede that the two sides had a long ways to go to reach a deal.
“There is no doubt that there were some very difficult issues that needed to be decided,” Van Hollen said.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, slammed Cantor for walking away from the table.
“Instead of making the hard choices to find a responsible way to reduce the deficit, Republicans are running away from the mess they created,” Becerra said in a statement. “Is this the adult moment they promised the American people in November?”
House Democratic had met with Obama Thursday morning to discuss the party's priorities surrounding the ongoing talks. They were not aware of Cantor's decision during the gathering, but were informed only as they were leaving the White House, Pelosi and Van Hollen said.