US Republicans won't budge on spending cuts -Cantor

Tue May 17, 2011 2:04pm EDT

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* House Majority Leader says he cynical about agreement

* Without cuts, Republicans won't raise debt ceiling

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO, May 17 (Reuters) - Republicans in Congress will insist on real budget cuts and reforms of entitlement programs like Medicare before voting to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday.

Cantor said he remained "cynical" about whether Democrats will agree to the necessary spending cuts, though he was "heartened" by concessions voiced by his Democratic counterpart, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, about the need to revise entitlement programs.

Cantor said an "air of willingness" pervaded the seven-member deficit reduction commission led by Vice President Joe Biden, on which Cantor serves, to make what both sides agree are trillions of dollars in cuts over the next decade.

Until real progress is made on the long-term budget problem, House Republicans will not back raising the nation's debt ceiling, Cantor said.

"The votes are not going to be there unless the cuts are there and unless the reforms are there," Cantor said during a visit to the headquarters of the CME Group Inc, which operates the nation's largest futures exchanges.

"If there is an outline on the table that it seems parties are rallying around, a bipartisan agreement, then I believe markets will then take note of that and have some confidence that, frankly, this country is not going to become Greece," added Cantor, a Republican from Virginia.

Republicans and Democrats have been debating the depth and breadth of cuts needed to shrink annual deficits projected in the trillion-dollar range over the next few years. The House Republican majority wants to use its leverage over approving a higher U.S. debt ceiling to secure bigger cuts.

The United States reached the legal limits of its borrowing authority on Monday, though the Treasury Department has said it should be able to stave off a default until early August.

Cantor said changes were needed to government-funded health care programs and to the tax code, which he said disadvantaged U.S. businesses.

President Barack Obama has called for cutting $4 trillion of the budget deficit over 12 years, ensuring the issue will be a focus of his 2012 re-election campaign. Obama has also advocated raising taxes on the wealthy.

Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly, is set to go broke in 9 years, Cantor said, with taxes and revenues covering a little over half of its costs.

Cantor's colleague, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, has proposed shifting fee-for-service Medicare into a program of vouchers for the elderly to buy subsidized health insurance from private insurers on their own.

"We're defying all political convention by touching every third rail in politics. It reflects the seriousness which we have got to take this situation," Cantor said. (Editing by David Lawder)

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