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Eric Cantor's least-fine hour

Alex Wong/Getty

With Eric Cantor defeated at the hands of an even more hardline conservative primary opponent, it's an opportune moment to revisit what I think of as Eric Cantor's least-fine hour — the time he stymied a debt ceiling deal.

The year was 2011. The occasion was the Obama administration's moderately misguided effort to turn the need to raise the statutory debt ceiling into an opportunity to make a big budget deal. John Boehner and his Republican colleagues had articulated the idea that an increase in the debt ceiling was acceptable if and only if it was paired with large spending cuts. Obama replied that spending cuts were acceptable if and only if they were paired with tax hikes. Boehner, apparently, was prepared to strike a deal along these lines.

And then along came Cantor who, in an interview with Ryan Lizza, says he scuttled the deal:

LIZZA: There's sort of a final meeting with Paul Ryan and you and Boehner where it seems like there's a final sort of discussion about whether this offer needs to be rejected or not. The way it seems to be reported is-it seems like Boehner wanted to do it, you and Ryan sort of talked him out of it. Is that-

CANTOR: I would say it's a fair assessment, because, in the end, we felt that-well, let me back up, this is probably a longer answer. Yes, it's probably an accurate conclusion.

Thanks to Cantor, instead of the big budget deal we got sequestration. Unlike a big budget deal, sequestration front-loaded fiscal austerity which hurt the economy in the short term. But also unlike a big budget deal, sequestration didn't address the structural drivers of the long-term budget deficit — Social Security and Medicare.

Consequently, we got a budget deal that cut spending when it didn't need to be cut while doing nothing to address the country's long-term fiscal problems. For our troubles, we also got a period of about a week and a half when it looked like the country might plunge into a legal and financial crisis by running out of borrowing authority.

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