A leading Democrat offered the most blunt assessment to date of the GOP divide in debt-ceiling talks, citing an "internal war" between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), bluntly pinned the debt-ceiling morass on a power struggle between Boehner and his No. 2, Cantor.

"I have to assume that isn't really about Democrats versus Republicans or the House versus the Senate; this is about John Boehner versus Eric Cantor," Israel said on liberal talker Bill Press's radio show. "This is about an internal war in the Republican caucus."

Israel, who's not at the table at negotiations at the White House, said it was his impression that Cantor is leading "a bunch of children who are running away from [Boehner] and maybe even trying to grab the Speaker's gavel from him."

Outwardly, Boehner and Cantor have projected a strong degree of unity, with their aides insisting that there's no daylight between the two when it comes to standing against tax hikes as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.

But a variety of news organizations on Tuesday published variations of the same story: that Cantor has seized the mantle of opposing any revenue-raising provisions, perhaps having the effect of scuttling a "grand bargain" Boehner had sought with President Obama.

Of course, Israel's charge has clear political overtones. As chairman of the DCCC, he's charged with helping Democrats win back the House in next fall's elections. He's said he thinks control of the House is in play in 2012, and said the divisions in the GOP leadership were fueling a sense of "buyer's remorse" by voters who'd helped elect the Republican majority last fall.