John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Jeb Hensarling
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders comment on the Senate Democratic leadership and the problems in passing a long-term spending bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.
updated 3/30/2011 9:51:23 AM ET 2011-03-30T13:51:23

They're a pair of flamboyant lawyers who are fond of cameras and adept at messaging, two No. 2s with ambitions to land, someday, on top.

So the emerging political warfare led by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Rep. Eric Cantor, now playing out in multimedia form over the budget impasse, can resemble a Spy vs. Spy contest over some of the most serious issues facing Congress and the nation.

Story: Dems hint at flexibility in budget talks

For them it's not just about getting to a budget agreement, cutting spending or the deficit. In fact, neither Cantor nor Schumer is directly involved in the sensitive, secretive budget negotiations. But the snippy rhetoric is expected to intensify as the April 8 deadline — and a possible government shutdown — loom.

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To these two, and arguably all of the congressional Republicans and Democrats they represent, the federal budget mess is a campaign within the long 2012 re-election campaign. And that means all the responses and "pre-sponses" the Internet, the Twitterverse, television and the old-fashioned telephone allow.

'Extreme and draconian'
Tuesday provided an apt, daylong example. Reporters dialing in to a news conference-by-phone could hear Schumer, the media-savvy New Yorker tapped by Majority Leader Harry Reid to handle the party's messaging, giving talking points on the budget to other Democratic senators. He was clearly unaware that reporters were already on the line.

Schumer's advice was familiar: Call the House Republicans' proposed spending cuts "extreme."

"Extreme and draconian," Schumer, 60, advised. "The subtext of this is, the only way we can avoid a shutdown is for (House Speaker John) Boehner to come up with a reasonable compromise and not just listen to what the tea party wants."

Is this thing on? Open mic reveals moment of Dem strategizing

The GOP's victory dancing began, from Cantor's office and beyond. Within moments, Boehner's office fired off an email with an account of the overheard conversation.

Then Cantor, 47, referred to Schumer several times during the Republican's weekly off-camera briefing.

"We have seen what the motive is behind Mr. Schumer," Cantor said. "He says every spending cut is unreasonable."

On-camera later, there was more. "I think we did find out that Chuck Schumer's intent on playing political games," the Virginia Republican said.

Other Republicans chimed in.

With a flash of smirk, Boehner twice referenced the Democrats' "marching orders."

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., another Republican leader, said he wonders who's in charge of the Senate.

Story: Time short, tempers flaring in budget showdown

"Do we have a de facto leader in Schumer, who thinks he wants to engineer a political game, as many reporters could actually hear on the call?"

And Rep. Jeb Hensarling quipped that it was "extremely revealing that Senate Democrats have instructed their members to use extreme language."

Twitter war
The exchange followed a similar back-and-forth last week, which included Schumer's response to a Cantor speech at Stanford University — before the Republican had delivered it, and before many reporters had even obtained a copy.

On Friday, a Twitter war broke out after Schumer said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that "some progress" had been made between Reid and Boehner in budget talks.

In one tweet, Cantor's office didn't even mention Reid.

"Sen. Schumer and the WH (White House) continue to abandon their responsibility to get our fiscal house in order by negotiating off of the status quo," tweeted CantorPress.

For his part Tuesday, Schumer wasn't backing off the talking points overheard by reporters. They're the same ones he and other Democrats have been using for weeks, a point underscored when Schumer stopped talking, the conference call officially began and the senators on the line delivered prepared statements.

First up: Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

"We have a very straightforward message and each of us will give it in our own words. And my words are these," Boxer said. "We Senate Democrats are calling on Speaker Boehner to abandon the extreme right wing of his Republican caucus."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Government shutdown still looms

  1. Closed captioning of: Government shutdown still looms

    >>> with less than two weeks to get a budget deal, democrats are hammering out an offer to put $20 billion in additional cuts on the table, but time is short. republican leaders are facing pressure from the right flank of their party. without a deal, the lights go out, so to speak, a week from friday. former texas congressman was chair of the democratic caucus as well as democratic congressional campaign committee and former virginia congressman of the national republican congressional committee . and both witnessed the 1995 shut down firsthand approximately fellas, are we on on it again? tom, you said you were kshd about it.

    >> i am. if you remember the tea party and the republicans aren't married yet. they're still dating. this is going to be difficult within the caucus. at one what point do you compromise without kaifring. this is going to be a difficult time.

    >> because we really boils down to, i suppose, what kind of compromise speaker boehner is willing to take. he had his house republicans pass $60 billion in cuts. we know the figure is going to be somewhat lower. the final deal.

    >> right.

    >> is it a matter of how many voters he lose?

    >> the players, here, too, are the immedia media. rush limbaugh , it shapes a lot of opinion, they light up on this kind of thing. third-party players in this that we don't talk about.

    >> i'm not sure i agree with tom completely on this. i think that the maximum leverage that his party, the republicans , have is when the debt ceiling vote occurs in april or early may. and i think this thing gets slipped until the debt ceiling. i think they paper this over. we don't have a government shutdown on april 8th . i'm not sure exactly how they do it.

    >> another series of temporary budgets?

    >> i think you take it to what everybody agrees is the debt ceiling date when that has to be voted on. that's when they've got real leverage. it will be interesting. now, i think if the president is fortunate and if gadhafi is kicked out of libya in the next week or so that lessens the republicans ' leverage right now because he will be stronger.

    >> just in a political sense stronger?

    >> really want to take on a strong president right now. this is interesting to see how this plays out. i'm still betting that they paper this over on april 8th and they get to the debt ceiling.

    >> before i get to you, if they continue to paper it over, as you say, aren't republicans function aally winning because every temporary bill has included cuts pro rated at the level that republicans stopped cuts.

    >> winning some but not as much as the taet party wants.

    >> take this up to the debt ceiling the republicans win because at that point they have to have it. their leverage is maximized. government is dysfunctional right now. without a budget for the year the innovation, those kinds of things are not happening. i think a lot of leaders want to get this thing resolved in the next two weeks.

    >> is it really a possibility that the government could shut down? seems to me that although me in the media like to danging it out there that both parties have essentially looked at this circumstance and said, this is mutually assured destruction, or we just can't be sure?

    >> the leaders of both parties understand that. the question is whether boehner can deliver the tea party people. i leave that to tom in terms of whether he can deliver enough of them but i don't think the leaders and in particular the leaders in the senate on the democratic side don't want a government shutdown . the president doesn't want it, i don't think boehner does.

    >> i don't think the leaders want it. remember, if the government shuts down and you can blame it on the other party, they're getting the blame --

    >> the question is who gets the blame now.

    >> that helps your leverage then.

    >> the question is who gets the blame.

    >> right.

    >> i'm not sure that the democrats get the blame if the republicans force a government shutdown on april 8th . i think they know that.

    >> they don't force it. it's a question of, you send a bill to the president and there's not enough money and he shuts it down because you're not getting enough money.

    >> the question is whether it gets to the president.

    >> right here is the evidence of why republicans and democrats can't agree.

    >> if tom and i were still there, we could work it out.

    >> final point, let's turn to libya . i'm going to test a theory here. do you think that the president consulted sufficiently with congress? my theory is that this is a bipartisan gripe among members of congress who thinks as co-equal branch that weren't efficiently consulted. if you asked democrats and republicans you would tend to get the same oons.

    >> first of all, i don't think the president needs to be a law professor when he goes on tv tonight. i don't think he needs to talk about the constitution and talk about the war powers . i think there was a degree of consultation. you can argue it either way. this was -- you got down to a situation where we had to act or whether were going to be a lot of people killed in libya .

    >> bipartisan diss. he had to move quickly. let me say this, over the next 16 months the president now owns the results in libya .

    >> all right.

    >> may be good.

    >> maybe, maybe not.

    >> tom davis and martin, i don't even need to be here. you've got it down.


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