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Cantor on debt ceiling: 'They're going to have to come meet us'

Frank Thorp, NBC News

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)

As Congressional leaders meet today at the White House for the third time in the past week to discuss a deal to decrease the deficit, the gap between Democrats and Republicans appears wider than ever.

With President Obama telling reporters that there is no path to a deal if the GOP won't budge on revenue increases, the question looms if a deal will be made at all by the Aug. 2nd deadline that the Obama administration has imposed for when the nation's debt limit must be raised.

During a pen-and-pad news conference with reporters today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reiterated his stance that the tax increases Obama is calling for will not pass the House.

"The votes aren't in the House to raise taxes," he explained emphatically. "If they want to vote on the debt ceiling, they're going to have to come meet us, and we're going to have a package that does not have any net new revenues, period."

Cantor, who is one of eight members of Congress who are regularly meeting with the president in an effort to strike a deal, said that Monday's meeting at the White House will focus on the details that came out of the Biden group meetings, which were disbanded after Cantor left over continued talks of increasing revenue. 

Obama has called out Republicans, who he believes are not playing fair, saying his proposed concessions involving entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security are not matching their unwillingness to budge on increasing revenues. Cantor doesn't see it that way.

"The fact that we're even discussing voting for a debt-ceiling increase [is a concession]," he contended. "Again, what I don't think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say that they're going to vote for a debt-ceiling increase."

The big question is whether a deal, if one ever comes forth, could garner the 218 votes it would need to pass in the House. Many Republicans have already expressed their intention to vote down a deal that includes tax hikes, and then there is the Tea Party members, who will refuse to vote to increase the debt limit no matter what the deal includes. 

House Democrats have also made it clear that a deal which includes changes to Medicare or Social Security would be almost impossible to support as well. 

"There is a fundamental preset to being a Democrat that involves a commitment to Medicare, and to that safety net, and we ain't going to give that up," said Rep. Jerry Connolly (D-VA) late last week.

He anticipates that Speaker John Boehner will need between 68 and 90 Democratic votes to pass any deal that is brought forth.

The vote will, no doubt, have implications in the 2012 election, as any concessions either party decides to make could be campaign fodder for opponents to use in attack ads. 

"This will be, I think, the biggest issue that we'll face that comes from Congress in the reelection," Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said. 

Cantor reiterated that concern today: "The election battle in 2012 is going to be much about the future of how this country runs it's entitlements programs and constructs a safety net for those who need it, and frankly not for those who don't."

But, according to Cantor, there's no question that the increasing the debt limit by the Aug. 2nd deadline is necessary, explaining that interests rates could "quickly wipe out any savings potential that we're working on here." 

He also admitted that a "clean vote" to raise the debt ceiling (which would simply be done to avert the crisis and wouldn't include any deficit reduction plans), would be fruitless. "The markets are smarter than to just accept a, as you call it, clean vote on the debt ceiling," he said. "Just checking the box and making the payment, if you will, is not going to satisfy savvy investors out there, who know the fiscal situation of this country."

Today's meeting will be the start of daily meetings the president has called for to bridge the gap between the two sides, and while Cantor has expressed his intentions to negotiate, he also didn't rule out the idea of leaving the talks if President Obama continued to press for an increase in revenues. 

"We certainly don't want to walk out of these talks," he said, "but I think the message has been heard at the White House from what I stated yesterday that we're not going to raise taxes."