House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is in full walkback mode after admitting the obvious: that Republicans will never, under these political circumstances, prevail in their quest to privatize and slash Medicare — and thus well over 200 Members of his caucus just walked the political plank for nothing.
Based on an interview with Cantor, the Washington Post reports, “Senior Republicans conceded Wednesday that a deal is unlikely on a contentious plan to overhaul Medicare and offered to open budget talks with the White House by focusing on areas where both parties can agree, such as cutting farm subsidies. … Republicans recognize they may need to look elsewhere to achieve consensus after President Obama ‘excoriated us’ for a proposal to privatize Medicare.”
His press shop is doing its best to contain the fallout before word travels to rank and file Republicans — particularly the scores of House freshmen who may not be as well schooled in the art of negotiation as their leadership team. They insist that the Republicans starting point in negotiations remains the budget devised by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that they passed last month — Medicare privatization and all.
The admission itself is surprising only insofar as it reveals candidly how marginal and conservative the GOP’s Medicare plan really is. Republican leaders have acknowledged for weeks that there’s no middle ground between the two parties on health care issues — and thus that they adopted a radical plan to phase out Medicare to stake out a strong bargaining position.
Here’s Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) in an early April press conference with Cantor: “I would say what is different about Social Security, again having served on the President’s fiscal responsibility commission, clearly with the passage of the government takeover of health care, there is not a whole lot of common ground today between Republicans and Democrats on health care,” he said. “Frankly, there may be some common ground on Social Security. We would like, if at all possible, to keep that particular option open. But the main thing is to force some type of solution.”
But if there’s no middle ground, then their plan is an all-or-none proposition. Cantor subtly admitted it’s a no-go. The question now is how his members will react — and how willing Senate Republicans, who have yet to vote on the Ryan plan, will be to stick their necks out now.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.