By Russell Berman - 07/14/11 06:26 PM EDT
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) put on their best buddy-buddy routine in front of the cameras Thursday, insisting to skeptical reporters that they were unified in heated debt talks with the White House.
“The Speaker and I have consistently been on the same page,” Cantor said at a press conference with Boehner and other House Republican leaders. Reporters had asked him to respond to comments from Democrats — and, privately, some Republicans — that he was undercutting Boehner in negotiations with President Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier Thursday that Cantor should not be involved in the White House talks because his presence has not been constructive, and other Democrats have said he has dominated the Republican end of the discussions while Boehner has kept quiet. Cantor said he understood Reid’s frustrations but otherwise laughed off the criticism.
When Cantor was finished, Boehner walked over and put his arm around him.
“Let me just say that we have been in this fight together,” Boehner said. “And any suggestion that the role that Eric has played in these meetings has been anything less than helpful is just ridiculous. We’re in a foxhole.
“I’m glad that Eric’s there, and those that have other opinions should just keep them to themselves.”
Private tensions between the two have reportedly grown since Cantor objected to a potential “grand bargain” that Boehner was negotiating secretly with Obama. Shortly after Cantor signaled his opposition, Boehner dropped the effort.
The question-and-answer period of the press conference had begun awkwardly for the two leaders, offering a visual reminder of Cantor’s heightened role in the current negotiations. As Boehner began walking to the lectern to take the traditional first question, reporters instead shouted questions at Cantor, prompting the Speaker to let out a laugh and return to his spot with the other Republicans. Cantor then assumed the lectern to answer the initial question.
Earlier, the group of GOP leaders pushed for the passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, urging Obama to lobby Democrats to garner the two-thirds support necessary for it to pass. Democrats are opposed to the measure because the version Republicans plan to consider next week includes provisions instituting a spending cap and requiring a two-thirds vote in Congress for any future tax increase.
Boehner and Cantor offered no new concessions in the debt talks with Obama, which have stalled over the depth of spending cuts and the GOP’s refusal to consider new revenues.
Boehner reiterated that Republicans wanted to avoid a default by the U.S. government, and he said a “last-ditch” plan offered by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that would make it easier for the president to authorize more federal borrowing should be kept on the table, despite opposition from many House Republicans.
“What may look like something less than optimal today, if we’re unable to reach an agreement, might look pretty good a couple weeks from now,” the Speaker said. “I think it’s worth keeping on the table. There are a lot of options that people have floated, and frankly it’s an option that may be worthy at some point.”