House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, where he was asked about the possibility of budget crises in the fall. The Republican leader replied that lawmakers should be "focused on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit."
The comment was a striking reminder that Cantor is too often confused about the basics of current events. The deficit, in reality, isn't "growing"; it's shrinking. In fact, it's shrinking with remarkable speed -- in the Obama era, we're seeing the fastest deficit reduction than at any point since World War II. How exactly are policymakers going to have a budget debate if the House Majority Leader doesn't even understand this simple detail?
What's more, host Chris Wallace asked Cantor about the brutal automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. Some of the media coverage yesterday said the GOP leader "hinted" at a possible "compromise," but take a look at the exchange.
CANTOR: Here is the problem. What we need to have happen is leadership on the part of this president and White House to come to the table finally and say, we're going to fix the underlying problem that's driving our deficit. We know that is the entitlement programs and unfunded liability that they are leaving on this generation and the next.
WALLACE: So, are you're saying you are willing to get -- you're willing, if you could get a compromise on entitlements, then you would give up on the sequestration?
CANTOR: What we have said in the House as Republicans, leadership and members alike, is that we want to fix the real problem. The real problem is entitlements. We've also said sequester is not the best way to go about spending reductions. It was, as you know, a default mechanism because Congress couldn't do the job it was supposed to a couple of years ago. We've always said that. But, in fact --
WALLACE: You're willing to give up on sequestration?
CANTOR: But, in fact, Chris, we've always said, president, come join us.
In the larger context, this was a pretty important exchange, so let's not brush past it too quickly.
Sequestration cuts have been condemned by House Republicans. They've been condemned by Senate Republicans. The cuts are hurting the economy, and by some accounts, they're hurting our national security.
Cantor's comments yesterday suggest he's willing to replace the policy that's deliberately harming the United States, but only if President Obama cuts Social Security and Medicare.
In other words, we're once again looking at extortion politics at its most ridiculous -- either the White House cuts social-insurance programs to Republicans' satisfaction, or Republicans will continue to embrace a policy that hurts Americans on purpose.
And Cantor sees this as responsible because, in his mind, the deficit is "growing," despite reality that tells us the exact opposite is true.
Do you ever get the feeling Eric Cantor isn't quite cut out for a leadership role in Congress?
For the record, while the Majority Leader insisted during the Fox Interview that House Republicans are the policymakers who've been serious about entitlement "reforms," let's also remind Mr. Cantor that the Obama administration has already proposed changes to entitlement programs -- including the chained-CPI policy Republicans demanded -- as part of a balanced compromise. Cantor, so far, has refused to even consider the idea, because any proposal that asks Republicans to accept any concessions is, in his mind, necessarily a non-starter.
So where does that leave us? Right back where we started: with a Republican sequestration policy that's causing deliberate harm to the country, a budget fight in which the GOP will not compromise, ridiculous demands that Obama cut Social Security and Medicare because Republicans say so, and looming GOP-imposed disasters on the horizon, including a possible government shutdown and a debt-ceiling crisis.