Negotiations on a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling continued to falter over the weekend as Tea Party favorite Rep. Eric Cantor sought to redefine the concept of compromise in meetings with President Obama.
Insiders say that Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, is objecting to every proposal floated by Democrats until he gets something to placate his far-right constituency.
“It’s ridiculous,” claimed one senator familiar with the closed-door sessions in a White House conference room. “This guy won’t let us turn up the air-conditioning without bargaining for one of his pet issues.”
Sources close to the negotiations say Cantor eventually agreed with the rest of the room that it was a little stuffy, and said he’d permit adjustment of the thermostat in return for an agreement to dismantle the Department of Education.
The Virginia conservative reflexively opposed even the most innocuous suggestions in the Saturday session until he could tie it to his plans for smaller government, no new taxes, and an end to the social safety net.
“The President made what I thought was a nice gesture by bringing bagels to the morning meeting,” a source said. “Cantor was all, like, ‘I would’ve preferred donuts. The American people have resoundingly shown that they also prefer donuts. If we have to eat bagels, I want estate taxes permanently reduced to zero.'”
Even some fellow Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner, appear to be annoyed by Cantor’s refusal to go along with any suggestion at all without gaining a quid pro quo.
“(Vice President) Biden was discussing revenue projections, and was using a black marker to illustrate a point on the whiteboard in the front of the room,” said a GOP congressional aide. “Cantor demanded use of a red or orange marker instead, and said he’d only accept black if Medicare was completely privatized. Boehner could clearly be heard muttering ‘Jesus’ under his breath, and then Cantor went off about it being an anti-Semitic slur.”
“I half-expected him to demand that Boehner convert to Judaism right then and there in return for not making the exchange public,” the source said.
The Saturday meeting had to adjourn by early afternoon when Cantor refused to agree to bathroom breaks unless participants adopted his plan to allow corporations to use the military to force consumers to buy their products.
“Those job-creators need help in increasing profits,” Cantor reportedly told his fellow negotiators. “I’m prepared to sit here all day in a puddle of my own urine if it will help get America back to work.”
Cantor has drawn criticism from some quarters for outlandish positions he has held in the past. After tornadoes devastated Joplin, Missouri, this spring, he said federal disaster aid should be offset by cuts to other programs. He spent up to $15,000 on an investment that would offer huge returns if government bonds defaulted. He claimed his office was shot at during the healthcare debate when it turned out to be a random gun misfiring.
But now that he’s regarded as the unofficial head of the Republican Party’s Tea Party wing, God forbid anybody should offer him any resistance.