In today's column, I note that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) refused to admit during a recent Meet the Press interview that Republicans have backed away from their promise to cut $100 billion in spending by the end of the fiscal year. Space constraints prevented me from adequately conveying exactly how slippery Cantor was on this point (emphasis added):
David Gregory: You campaigned on a pledge to America last September, and this is a part of what you said, it was very clear: "We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt." And then you came into office and you said, "Well, we're not going to hit that $100 billion figure." And here was the headline on Friday in The Washington Post: "GOP bloc in the House calls for deeper cuts," and the sub-headline: "Campaign pledge divides the party." You're arguing about just how much to spend. I thought this was already worked out.
Cantor: David, let, let's step back a minute and look at sort of the whole sort of continuum of the spending challenges. We're, we're going to really have three bites at the apple here as far as approaching reducing spending and the size of Washington. As far as the mess in the past, we're going to have this debt limit increase vote that will come, and that is dealing with the rampant spending that's been in place in this town for some time that's gone on overdrive in, in the last couple years.
Gregory: And I'll get to the debt limit, but this is a targeted question.
Cantor: But as far as the decisions that we make now, it is about the continuing resolution vote that will come up in the next month or so, all right?
Gregory: Right. But $100 billion, or not $100 billion?
Cantor: And, and we've committed to say [but not do?] $100 billion in reductions, which brings spending down to '08 levels. Now, we also are in the position where we are starting to even deliberate on that five months into the fiscal year. We are intent on making sure, on an annualized basis, that we are hitting the '08 levels or below. And so every member will have the chance to come to the floor, to talk about whether they believe that '08 levels are enough to cut, because some members actually want to see us do more. And I agree, we ought to look in every way possible to reduce spending as much as possible.
Gregory: It seems like it's a straightforward question, though. Are you going to live up to the $100 billion pledge? I assume you've put a lot of thought into that…
Gregory: …$100 billion figure. Can you make it or not?
Cantor: Absolutely. On an annualized basis, we will cut spending $100 billion.
Gregory: You do it this year as you pledged?
Cantor: On an annualized basis…
Gregory: Which means what exactly?
Cantor: Well, again, David, look where we are. We are where we are because the Democratic majority, last Congress, didn't pass a budget, right? They didn't do it. So we're in a continuing resolution environment. So now we've got an interim step to take to make sure that we reset the dial and bring spending back down to '08 levels. We will do that.
Cantor was equally weaselly on the subject of Social Security, refusing to say, even in general terms, what steps he would take to make it solvent. Instead he referred to Young Turks, a 2010 book he co-authored with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is now chairman of the House Budget Committee. Here is what Ryan (but not Cantor) has to say about Social Security reform in that book, summarizing elements of his "Roadmap for America's Future":
Under the Roadmap's Social Security proposal, everyone fifty-five and older will remain in the existing program with no change. Those under fifty-five will choose either to stay with traditional Social Security, or to join a retirement system like Congress's own plan. They will be able to invest more than a third of their payroll taxes in their own savings account, guaranteed and managed by Social Security. For both Social Security and Medicare, eligibility ages will gradually increase, and the wealthy will receive smaller benefit increases.
Cantor could have outlined this proposal and indicated whether he agrees with it in far less time than it took him to repeatedly dodge the question. He insisted "we're going to have to have a serious discussion" about Social Security. But not yet.
Yesterday Peter Suderman noted Republicans' wariness of Ryan's far-from-radical fiscal plan.