Parties trade blame for 'least productive Congress' in decades

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had a lengthy argument on the House floor Friday afternoon in which they alternatively blamed each other for the failure of the House to address issues like jobs and the deficit.

The exchange, which could be the last of their weekly colloquies until after the November election, included moments in which Hoyer laughed at Cantor's prescription for job creation. Cantor could occasionally be heard muttering things like "here we go" as Hoyer launched into a new criticism of GOP policies.

The long floor fight highlighted the intensely partisan atmosphere that critics say has undermined Congress's ability to address the nation's biggest challenges. 

Cantor started his remarks by saying the House would only be in session next week, after which members are expected to be free to return to their districts and campaign until the Nov. 6 elections.

The fight also seems to mark one of the lower points of cooperation between the two leaders. The relationship between Hoyer and Cantor has always had its ups and downs, but it seemed to be on the upswing earlier this year. They found a way to cooperate on a bill extending the Export-Import Bank, and have cooperated famously on the issue of strengthening support for Israel.

None of that cooperation was on display Friday. Hoyer started by pressing Cantor on why there is no sign of a farm bill, and quickly moved to argue that Republicans are refusing to act on a bill that would allow current tax rates to be maintained for 98 percent of Americans.

"There is not agreement right now that we ought to raise taxes in this economy," Cantor replied, referring to the Democratic plan to allow rates to rise for high-income earners.

"But the best we can do is create a job and see them go back to work," Cantor added, to audible laughter from Hoyer. Hoyer then said that the reason why the 112th Congress is the least productive in decades is because Republicans are not compromising at all on issues such as these.

"Those 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses ought not to get a tax increase on January 1," Hoyer said. "What you don't agree with is that if we don't do it all on something we disagree with, that's what's causing gridlock in Congress. That's what's causing this Congress to be the least productive Congress in which I've served in 32 years."

Cantor used that as an opportunity to say it is Democrats who are refusing to compromise. He said Democratic objections to real reforms at the U.S. Postal Service are the reason why that particular bill has not yet moved in the House.

"The fact of the matter is ... his side, the minority, will not agree to reforms," he said. "Everyone knows the Post Office needs reforms.

"But because the gentleman and his colleagues refuse to go along with reforms, like a five-day delivery ... this is something that the president supports," Cantor added, "but because his side refuses to go along with trying to reform that organization, we can't move."

Hoyer then moved to the Violence Against Women Act, accusing Republicans of passing a bill that excludes protections for some women, which the GOP knew would not be acceptable to the Obama administration.

"You didn't sit down with the president to do it, because you wanted to exclude some people," Hoyer said. "You wanted to exclude some people who were subject to domestic violence in this country."

Cantor took strong offense to that remark.

"It's not true. We don't want to exclude anybody from the benefits under VAWA, and he knows that.

"It was simply a matter of new language inserted by the Senate ... we don't want to deny those benefits to anyone," he said. "We want everyone to have the benefits, and not exclude some by identifying others."

Minutes later, it was Hoyer's turn to be offended. Cantor said that Hoyer opposes keeping taxes low for the wealthy because "somehow, somebody he doesn't like because they're so successful gets a benefit."

Hoyer instantly interrupted and ask Cantor to take it back.

"It is an absurd assertion, that people I don't like," Hoyer said. "I would hope the gentleman would retract that. It has nothing to do with people we like or don't like."

Cantor agreed to retract his remarks, but not before adding that Hoyer "continues to malign people who he feels don't deserve the same treatment on taxes. And what we're saying is if they're successful, that means they're creating jobs. That's the prescription we need right now, is more jobs."

Near the end, Hoyer called on Republicans to agree to work after the election on what he called a balanced plan, which Republicans have interpreted to mean unacceptable tax hikes.

"I would hope that he and I would both commit ourselves that during the lame-duck session [we] do our responsibility to America and to our constituents in reaching a Bowles-Simpson, Domenici-Rivlin, Gang of Six" type of agreement on the debt, Hoyer said, to audible groans from Cantor.

"If we simply have sold our soul ... to Grover Norquist on asking people to help people to help bring this debt and deficit down ... we will not succeed," Hoyer added. Norquist is the head of Americans for Tax Reform, which urges members of Congress to sign a pledge not to raise tax rates for individuals and businesses. 

Cantor replied that Republicans don't like Simpson-Bowles because it calls for $1.22 in new taxes for every $1 in spending cuts, and sets a target of 21 percent of GDP for the federal government, which he said is too high. Simpson-Bowles was the bipartisan commission appointed by President Obama to propose ways to reduce the federal deficit. 

"We believe that that is too much a revenue flow into Washington," Cantor said. "So we got an issue there about taxes and the size of government. It's not just rejection out of hand."

The two leaders finished by saying they look forward to working together on all these difficult issues in the lame duck session.