WASHINGTON -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) insisted Monday night that he didn't support the budget sequester put into place last summer that Congress is now trying to get out of. But, well, he did vote for it.
During a debate with his Democratic challenger Wayne Powell, Cantor blamed President Barack Obama for pushing through a debt deal in August 2011 that included a $1.2 trillion sequester, or a trigger for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in at the end of this year. The sequester was never intended to take effect. It was supposed to spur lawmakers to come up with a better way to cut trillions in spending. But Congress failed to come up with a bipartisan plan, so the possibility of the sequester taking effect now looms.
As Cantor spoke of the need to cut spending, Powell threw in his face that he voted for the sequester, which includes major cuts to defense spending -- an issue that resonates in the military-heavy state of Virginia. Cantor disagreed.
"Mr. Powell keeps saying that I supported the sequester. As he knows good and well, that's not true," Cantor said. "The president insisted on its insertion into the debt ceiling deal. ... We were put in a position where there was no other choice because the president didn't want to go along with actually beginning to address the real deficit issue, which are health care entitlements."
Cantor said Obama told congressional leaders that "the only way" a debt deal could pass is if there was a sequester in it, which meant lawmakers had to choose between swallowing the sequester or having the nation default on its debt.
"What we did is we went and said, 'The House is too important,'" Cantor said. "It's a very scary thing, this sequester. And it ought not go through."
But as bad as it may have tasted, Cantor voted for it, along with more than 170 members of his party. Among them: Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (Wis.), who also tried to argue last month that he is opposed to the defense sequester that he voted for.
Cantor's debate with Powell marks the first time he's participated in a congressional debate since 2001. His seat is safely Republican, so it's curious that Cantor agreed to the debate. He beat his 2010 Democratic challenger by 25 percentage points.