Time Makes Out Rep. Cantor As Villain in Budget Talks

Wannabe liberal reporters in J-school could use Alex Altman's July 11 Swampland blog post at Time.com as a template for biased coverage of the federal budget battle.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is a "hard-line" conservative aligned with House Republican freshmen "who would rather risk economic catastrophe than give ideological ground" by agreeing to tax increases, Altman informed readers yesterday.

Of course Altman worked hard to avoid the T-word, latching on to the euphemism "revenue increases" to refer to tax hikes and not once examined if there are hard-liners in the White House or on the Democratic side of the aisle when it comes to reaching a debt ceiling deal.

Altman also failed to consider ideological and political motives that Democrats may have for hiking taxes -- the deployment of class warfare rhetoric as political bludgeon, for example -- while arguing that Cantor is cynically playing up his anti-tax hike credentials as a move to gain the upper-hand over Boehner, the party's leader in the House:

During a meeting with reporters on Monday afternoon, Cantor dismissed the characterization that a rift had opened between Boehner and his No. 2. “I know you all love to write the soap opera here,” Cantor told a standing-room-only crowd in the Capitol, but “the Speaker and I are on the same page.” It was the first question he was asked, and he later repeated his answer. Less than an hour later, before the two leaders trekked to the White House for another round of negotiations, Boehner held his own briefing with the press and paid tribute to hard-line Republican demands — a balanced-budget amendment, binding spending caps to stem a slide back to profligacy — and wagged his finger at a reporter who asked about his apparent retreat to the safety of the pack. “There were no tax increases ever on the table,” Boehner insisted.

But while Boehner said on Monday that a bill that raises taxes cannot pass the House, it is Cantor who has made every effort in recent days to stake out the anti-tax ground. Helping to thwart Boehner’s push for a big deal was only the latest jockeying between the supple, dealmaking Speaker and his pugnacious top lieutenant. By tapping Cantor as an emissary to the Biden negotiations, Boehner tried to gain Cantor’s imprimatur for any deal it yielded; by stalking out over tax increases, Cantor cleaved separation, as he did again by pushing for a smaller deal at a Thursday meeting at the White House. The House majority leader, who didn’t support Boehner’s bid for that job in 2006, could be poised to capitalize should an intraparty feud over the debt limit spark an insurrection. “I think what we learned over this past weekend is that John Boehner … is not really Speaker of the House,” New York magazine political columnist John Heilemann says. “Eric Cantor is the Speaker of the House.” Pointing to the potency of Cantor’s anti-tax vehemence, Darrell West of the Brookings Institution said on Monday that “Eric Cantor is the real power in the House of Representatives.”

At no point in his piece, however, did Altman attempt to examine the key economic argument that Republicans cite for opposing tax hikes, that the federal budget mess is fundamentally an issue of chronic overspending, not under-collection of tax revenue, and that tax hikes would be counterproductive in the aim of increasing federal revenue in the long-term.

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Budget Economy Obama Watch John Boehner Eric Cantor