The debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling just got a lot more complicated.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), one of the lead negotiators in the talks between congressional Republicans and Vice President Joseph Biden, announced today that he is leaving the talks until President Obama takes tax hikes off the table completely.
"Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue," Cantor said in a statement. "Given this impasse, I will not be participating in today's meeting and I believe it is time for the president to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue."
Congress must agree to a plan to raise the federal government's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August or the nation could risk default. White House officials have canceled three days of meetings with the Republicans over Cantor's decision.
While Republican leaders try to re-organize the closed-door talks with Democrats, House and Senate Republicans are setting their own baseline demands to deliver their votes in support of raising the debt ceiling. More than 100 House members signed a letter to Boehner and Cantor this month outlining their terms for a yes vote; among those demands are a constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget, as well as cuts and caps on federal spending. Eleven senators and nearly 50 conservative groups have endorsed the plan.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, one of the lead senate negotiators on the initiative, called the plan a "stunt-buster."
"When Congress agrees to do something if it is committed to something many years in advance--we've heard talk about cutting spending by $2 trillion if that is stretched over 10 or more years, we can't bind a future Congress to that," Lee said during a Fox News interview. "The only way we can bind a future Congress is by amending the Constitution that's what we have to do."
The initiative, called "cut, cap and balance" does not currently have the backing of Republican leadership. So far, three Republican candidates for president--Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain--support the pledge.
The fractious GOP positioning on the ceiling vote is just one among many brewing challenges in the debate.
For the time being, however, the toughest challenge might just be keeping the lawmakers together in the same room.
(Photo of Cantor: Lawrence Jackson/AP)