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Eric Cantor


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he is hopeful that an agreement to reduce the nation's debt will soon be reached. He said he was encouraged after former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are willing to implement changes in Medicare and Social Security.

Cantor on deficit deal: ‘There’s hope now’

by Anjelica Tan
May 17, 2011

U.S. Debt

Anjelica Tan/MEDILL

The growing national debt is expected to reach its limit by early August.

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Tuesday Democrats and Republicans may be one step closer to reaching a deal to reduce the nation’s burgeoning budget deficit.

He revealed his cautious optimism during a visit to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, one day after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the government officially hit its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Cantor, a 47-year-old Virginia Republican, said one of the roadblocks in Washington’s deficit debate has been a “lack of clarity” from Democrats on what they are willing to cut. But Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told CNBC her party is willing to make changes in everything including Medicare and Social Security.

“If former Speaker Pelosi is going to be true to her word, then I expect we can finally come together and realize these programs like Medicare have to be changed if they’re going to be around for our children,” Cantor said on the floor of CME Group’s Global Command Center, a 35,000 square foot facility for monitoring the company’s worldwide operations.

Cantor is one of six lawmakers on the “Biden Commission” to negotiate a plan to reduce the deficit. The bipartisan commission, not to be confused with the original “Gang of Six” that includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was brought together by Vice President Joseph Biden May 5. The other members are Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Cantor said he expects Van Hollen, who is Pelosi’s representative on the commission, to present a reform plan soon but did not say whether an agreement would be reached by Aug. 2, at which time the Treasury estimates the U.S. will default unless the debt ceiling is raised.

According to Cantor, a free trade proponent, “The markets are smarter than to think that a date is what makes a difference. It’s really whether there’s going to be movement on actual reform.”

Republicans have refused to raise the debt ceiling unless the government cuts back spending. By contrast, the Obama Administration has said the Republicans’ stance on the issue would have a catastrophic effect on the nation’s credit system. In what he thought were off-the-record comments last month, Obama criticized Republicans for “nickel-and-diming” him in budget negotiations.

Still, Cantor is hopeful that representatives from both sides of the aisle would finally reach a deficit reduction plan and avoid a credit crisis.

“This country is not going to become Greece,” Cantor said.