* House Majority Leader says he cynical about agreement
* Without cuts, Republicans won't raise debt ceiling
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO, May 17 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
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
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)