WASHINGTON -- Just as Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has attempted to lower expectations in recent days by saying that Republicans can't really accomplish anything unless President Obama is voted out of office in 2012, so too did Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) set the stage on Sunday by declaring that any lack of progress in Congress -- including a possible government shutdown -- will be Obama's fault.
"I would say, Chris, it's as much his responsibility," said Cantor in response to a question from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace about who will be to blame for a government shutdown or a default on the debt. "In fact, he is the one who sets the agenda as the chief executive and as the president of this country."
Cantor also made clear that if there's going to be any compromise, it's going to have to come from Obama, who has said he is willing to work with Republicans. Cantor, however, said that Republicans will work with Obama only if he agrees with them 100 percent.
"Listen, are we willing to work with him?" said Cantor on Sunday. "First and foremost, we're not going to be willing to work with him on the expansive liberal agenda he's been about, but if he is serious about working with us on things like earmarks, for instance -- which he said he would work with me on that -- I'm absolutely hopeful we can do that. I hope he calls Harry Reid the first thing to get the Senate to go along with the House position."
Earmarks may prove tricky for the GOP caucus though, because it's not clear that there is a unified Republican position. McConnell and Boehner have both said that they're in favor of an earmark moratorium -- a temporary suspension -- but have refused to go all-out in support of a permanent ban. "You can eliminate every congressional earmark and you would save no money," admitted McConnell in a speech last week at the conservative Heritage Foundation, essentially saying that one of the top ideas touted by Republicans to cut the deficit won't have much of an effect. When asked about a ban by Wallace on Sunday, Cantor simply replied that a moratorium was "essentially a suspension for the entire Congress."
On the Bush tax cuts, President Obama has indicated that he may be open to extending all of them, which is something the Republicans have been pushing for. But, his compromise would be that the middle-class tax cuts would be extended permanently, while the ones for the families making more than $250,000 would be extended temporarily. As The Washington Post explained, this "decoupling" strategy would "focus the debate when tax cuts for the rich expired next year or the year after. Republicans would be forced to defend carve-outs for a tiny minority populated by millionaires, an unpopular position that would be difficult to advance without the cover of a broad-based tax cut for everyone, aides in both parties said."
On Fox News Sunday, Cantor made clear there's no room for compromise on the tax cuts, saying he is opposed to decoupling. However, when Wallace asked him if "it's either permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts or nothing," Cantor refused to give a definitive answer:
CANTOR: No, I am not for decoupling the rates, because all that says to people looking to go back in and put capital to work and invest to create jobs is you're going to get taxed on any return you can expect. I am not for raising taxes in a recession, especially when it comes to job-creators we need so desperately to create jobs again.
WALLACE: You talked about compromise. If he says to you, alright, we'll extend all of the Bush tax cuts -- or as you say, keep the rates as they are now -- but only for a few years, could you accept that?
CANTOR: Chris, I am not for sending any signal to small businesses in this country that they're going to have their tax rates go up. I think it's indicative of -- the election result reflected the fact that people get Washington does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem --
WALLACE: So wait, are you saying it's either permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts or nothing?
CANTOR: No, what I'm saying, Chris, is we've got to come to grips with the fact that the money will be spent one way or another. ...
WALLACE: But I'm trying to get a specific answer. Would you accept a temporary extension of all the tax cuts? Or you saying that all of it has to be permanent?
CANTOR: Chris, at this point, I really want to see that we can come together and agree upon the notion that Washington doesn't need more revenues right now. And to sit here and say we're just going to go about half way, or we're going to send a signal that it's going to be uncertain for job-creators and investors to put capital to work, that's exactly what we don't need right now.