By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson - 07/26/11 03:20 PM EDT
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday bluntly told House Republicans to stop “grumbling and whining” about Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) new proposal for a limited debt-limit increase.
Cantor made the statement in a closed-door conference meeting, a Republican with knowledge of his remarks told The Hill.
Boehner and Cantor are trying to rally restive members of their caucus behind a plan that would authorize up to $1 trillion in new debt in exchange for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and the promise of more in the future.
In the closed-door meeting Tuesday, Cantor praised Boehner’s leadership and acknowledged that “the debt-limit vote sucks.” But he told lawmakers they had only three choices: allow the country to default on Aug. 2, pass a Senate bill that Boehner has denounced as “full of gimmicks” and a “blank check” for President Obama or support the GOP leadership and “call the president’s bluff.”
Cantor “said to stop grumbling and whining and to come together as conservatives and rally behind the speaker and call the president’s bluff,” the Republican with knowledge of his remarks said.
In a news conference after the meeting, Boehner defended the plan but stopped short of guaranteeing its passage.
“I do think we’re going to have some work to do to get it passed, but I think we can do it,” he said.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would not answer when asked whether he now has the votes to pass the Boehner plan.
“What kind of question is that?” he said, before turning to a favorite retort: “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.”
Some members coming out of the meeting said momentum appeared to be building for the plan, despite reservations by the rank-and-file.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), himself still not a yes vote, said leadership appeared to be winning members over.
He said the rival plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears to change very little and needs to be defeated. That plan, backed by President Obama, raises the debt ceiling through 2012, while the Boehner plan requires a two-step process contingent on cuts.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he was concerned over the size of the cut to 2012 spending and could vote no. He said that for all practical purposes the $1.043 trillion cap in the Boehner plan would become the spending level for 2012 even if the House wanted to go deeper, because the Senate would work off that number in its process.
But Flake said he saw momentum building in the room. Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said he was supportive because the risks involved with exceeding the debt ceiling after Aug. 2 are so great and the Boehner plan is “sufficient.”
Boehner acknowledged that his proposal fell short of the cuts envisioned in the House GOP budget, but he said “the package of discretionary cuts is real.”
Republican leaders continued to insist their proposal was bipartisan because it evolved out of discussions with Senate leaders, but Democrats have disavowed the bill.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), sponsor of the lead balanced-budget amendment in the House, said he was undecided but was working for changes that could win his vote.
The Boehner plan would require a vote in both chambers on the balanced-budget amendment, but it does not condition a raising of the debt ceiling on its passage.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said he still was pressing for such a requirement and was therefore undecided.
Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) all said they still were undecided after the meeting and were going to study the text of the bill released before midnight Monday.
The text of the Boehner proposal caps discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion for 2012. That is $24 billion more than the spending level of $1.019 trillion in the House-passed budget and $6 billion less than the $1.049 trillion level worked out in the 2011 spending deal.
This story was posted at 10:52 a.m. and has been updated.