Speaker in name only

No wonder it’s been so hard to reach a deal with President Obama on the budget: Congressional leaders around the table are too busy wrestling with each other — even members of their own party.

Indeed, as we’ve learned, the biggest obstacle to achieving a major deficit-reduction deal is not getting Democrats and Republicans to agree. It’s getting Republican House leaders to agree — on anything. According to those inside the Cabinet Room summits, every time John Boehner says yes, Eric Cantor says no.

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Publicly, Boehner and Cantor insist they are Soul Brothers. They’re two sides of the same coin. They agree on everything.

Baloney! That’s clearly not the case.

It was Cantor, not Boehner, who was assigned to take part in the budget negotiations led by Vice President Biden. And it was Cantor who walked out — saying, in effect: Let John Boehner deal with this. I don’t want anything to do with it.

Along the way, it was Boehner, not Cantor, who agreed with Obama that there had to be some new increases in revenue — otherwise known as tax adjustments — as part of any long-term budget deal. But Cantor dug in his heels and said: No way, Jose.

And it was Speaker John Boehner, not Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who several times met privately with the president and ended up agreeing to the broad outlines of a massive $4 trillion deficit-reduction package made up of a combination of cuts and tax reforms. A huge win for conservatives that columnist David Brooks called “the mother of all no-brainers.” But, once again, Cantor said no — and Boehner was forced to embarrass himself and the entire Republican Conference by calling President Obama at Camp David over the Fourth of July weekend and telling him the deal was off. 

Poor Boehner. Not only can he not deliver his own caucus. He can’t even deliver his own No. 2 guy. Because, as everybody on Capitol Hill now knows, Cantor is not really No. 2 anymore. In everything but name, he’s No. 1.

It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who has the trust and confidence of Tea Party freshmen. It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who’s calling the shots. It’s Cantor, not Boehner, who will ultimately decide what Republicans in the House will accept and what they will not. And there’s nothing John Boehner can do about it. Because he knows that the power-hungry Cantor has a switchblade in hand, ready to stab him in the back with it at the first opportunity. 

The problem for the nation is that President Obama will never be able to make a deal to raise the debt ceiling and make a significant down payment on the deficit until Republicans resolve their juvenile squabbling. So John Boehner should simply resign and let Eric Cantor take over. After all, Cantor’s already acting as Speaker of the House. He might as well have the title.

Press is host of the nationally syndicated “Bill Press Show.”