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GOP, Cantor begin message war on entitlements

Buoyed by national editorials condemning some Democrats’ desire not to touch entitlements in any fiscal cliff negotiations, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) challenged the White House today on the issue of entitlement reform.

Citing White House adviser David Plouffe recent comments that “fiscal cliff” talks should address Medicare and Medicaid, the “chief drivers of our deficit,” Cantor said, “we have seen, this morning, several editorial writers indicate the same; that it is important that we put these drivers of the deficit on the table and include them as part of any agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff.”

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Cantor defended the GOP’s position of no increase on taxes for the wealthiest Americans and claimed that the party has “done its part” by putting new revenue on the table in the form of minimizing tax deductions and closing loopholes. He then accused the Obama administration of not putting forward a “good-faith effort…to talk about the real problem that we're trying to fix.”

Cantor’s desire to shed light on what he sees as Democrats’ intransigence on entitlement reform is a calculated effort by the GOP to try and paint the president and his allies as stubbornly in favor of policies that will add to the deficit, GOP aides told NBC News.

Recently, Democrats have coalesced around the idea that a “fiscal cliff” agreement should not necessarily touch Social Security and likely even Medicare or Medicaid -- and only pertain to spending cuts and taxes. 

“If the public sees we’re willing to give something and Democrats are not, it’ll strengthen our negotiating position,” one GOP aide admitted.

It remains to be seen whether the American public will buy such an argument, especially with polls showing a majority supporting the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy to pay down the debt and not raise even the entry age into Medicare.

Michael Conroy / AP

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va.

Republicans, however, are banking on saying that Democrats are just as, if not more, unyielding on their “sacred cows,” and that leading to the typical Washington narrative of both parties being unwilling to move toward the center in favor of their own special interests. That, Republicans believe, could ultimately hurt the president, elected on the promise of doing big things.