I was in Cantor's weekly briefing yesterday when he got dressed down by Politico's David Rogers. And yes, it was a sight to behold. But for self-interested reasons, this is being passed around by Democrats and, well, Politico, as evidence that David Rogers is more keyed into what's going on behind the scenes in the budget fight than Eric Cantor.
Color me skeptical there. John Boehner might not brief Cantor as thoroughly as Harry Reid briefs Chuck Schumer (I don't know) but what I took from that exchange was that Cantor hid the ball, so he could more credibly move the center of gravity of budget negotiations to the right. If you're the number two Republican in the House and you admit that the Speaker is planning to cut a deal with Democrats, you can't easily undercut him in public and move the goalposts in your direction. But you can pretend you're not privy to those discussions and then play bad cop, by pushing for a more conservative outcome.
With that in mind, I think a more realistic take is that Cantor sees a falling out brewing between Boehner and House conservatives, and wants them to have a place to rest their loyalties in the aftermath. Maybe he's doing that to undermine Boehner. Maybe he's doing it to preserve some semblance of rank-and-file loyalty to leadership. Maybe a bit of both. But he's not just twiddling his thumbs ignorantly while the principals do all the real work.
Full Cantor-Rogers exchange below the fold.
Rogers: Since you and Schumer aren't even in the talks, neither of you know what's going on. The fact is Daley did talk to Barry Jackson about coming up to 70 billion
Cantor: that's what barry and Daley are telling you?
Rogers: Republicans and Democrats have told me that, yes. And the fact is you had discussed in meetings 1.052 as a potential compromise, depending on what happens with the riders. So I just want to know where you are. Are you saying 1.052 is too high for you?
Cantor: David, what I'm saying is I have not heard the white house - you're saying that barry committed to you that that's what was said?
Rogers: I didn't say barry.
Cantor: That's where my position is too. I think it's very one-sided, what you're hearing.
Rogers: No, I'm saying I'm hearing it from both sides. There's no question there was a discussion of 70 from the administration. They're going to move to 70.
Cantor: let's go back and use 61 as the benchmark
Rogers: Fine, then that would be the equivalent of 30. And you had offered in the course of the negotiations -- not you because you're not in the meetings, like schumer - but the point is you had discussed a potential compromise, a figure, I'm not holding you to it, of 1.052. people have told me that.
Cantor: I think the 'you' is the problem.
Rogers: No, the 'you' isn't the problem. Because I'm telling you as a reporter two republicans have told me that was discussed. In fact, it was seriously discussed. It isn't discussed as a final deal, no one should say it's a final deal, and no one should say it's separate from the riders. But the reality is there was a period of time where people were saying maybe we could get around this number. The Democratic argument, and you seem to be confirming this, is that you're nervous about 1.052. and that you dont want to go that high, and that's why you're suddenly talking about the only number is 61.
Cantor: There was never any - the assumption in your question is there was a firm position as far as a unified--
Rogers: I didn't use the word firm at all. I said to you, people get in a room and they talk. Well how can we do this? one possible thing is we talked about 1.052 and talked about half the riders. And that's the kind of thing you know very well happens in discussions. I'm not saying you're locked into 1.052. I never used firm. But the point is there was the discussion.
Cantor: you know that.
Rogers: yes I do.
Cantor: I have not been told by both sides of that. so I am just saying there's a difference in my knowledge base.
Rogers: what I'm asking you, having told you both sides of the story, do you think that's too high a number for you. it sounds like you think 1.052 is too high a number for your caucus.
Cantor: Suffice to say, I think we ought to be driving as many spending cuts that we possibly can consistent with the desire of our members with a unified position that we have not seen the democrats - president or anybody in the white house or the senate - we have not seen indicated that their willing to go where we want to go with spending cuts.