The showy move by Eric Cantor – and Jon Kyl – to walk out of the Biden debt limit talks was a planned event, prepared for weeks as an ostentatious way to force the President into the negotiations.

“There have been discussions about when these talks need to end and when the Speaker and the president need to get in the game,” one GOP aide explained.

Democrats suggested Cantor’s decision was meant to undermine House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by forcing him to decide whether the elimination of any tax breaks would be included in a final deal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce annual deficits.

But Republicans pushed back hard at that narrative, describing a coordinated effort that was weeks in the making.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Cantor consulted Boehner Thursday morning before announcing his decision to leave the talks, which puts those negotiations in limbo.

This kind of looks like an ex post facto justification for the walkout. Clearly it puts Speaker Boehner in a difficult spot, as the lead negotiator (who has somehow been elevated to the level of the President) on the deal. It makes sense for both Cantor and Boehner to say that they planned things this way all along.

But all of this is trivia. Whether you believe in a “walkout” or ongoing negotiations, there is still the need for something to be done so the government can repay its debts. The strange choice that Kyl and Mitch McConnell posit is between a “goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit.” Higher taxes, not a goal but part of a bipartisan plan, would address the deficit, of course. Actually, returning to Clinton-era tax rates would close the deficit all by itself. But that’s a heretical view.

The actual deal is being fought on this level – safety net cuts for revenues. That’s what Democrats are offering, anyway. And we’re hearing a bit more about those safety net cuts. Max Baucus put Medicare on the table publicly yesterday, and Sam Stein reports that this revolves around provider cuts, not benefit reductions:

As the heavier hitters get set to pick up the slack, the contours of a grand bargain are once again emerging, and it may not be to the liking of either party. In exchange for revenue-raisers (most likely in the form of siphoned off tax breaks or the closing of loopholes) Democrats will agree to Medicare cuts — not on the beneficiary side, which would have produced deafening howls from within the caucus, but on the provider side […]

“No one has fought harder than Chairman Baucus against the House proposal to that would end Medicare as we know it and increase costs for seniors by thousands of dollars,” a Senate Finance Committee aide emailed The Huffington Post. “Senator Baucus continues to fight for Medicare and made clear at the hearing that no changes in Medicare will be made unless Republicans agree to use revenue – in addition to spending reductions – to reduce the deficit, and any Medicare changes or savings would build on the type of efficiencies made in the Affordable Care Act, while protecting guaranteed benefits for seniors.”

While such an explanation won’t likely be enough to calm the nerves of inherently anxious progressives, the idea that lawmakers will build on the “efficiencies of the Affordable Care Act” is a notable tell. During the crafting of that legislation, Democrats had tried to lower the type of payments that Medicare makes to medical device manufacturers. They got fairly close to doing so, only to be told by now-former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) that he would oppose the bill if it cut too deep. Desperate for 60 votes, it was an easy tradeoff to make. The language was dropped and Bayh, whose state houses many of those medical device manufacturers, became a yes vote.

Bayh is now gone from the Senate, and Democrats, eager to find some way to get Republicans to sign off on additional revenues, are now looking to trade in that chip. As one plugged in operative predicted: “There will be cuts on the provider side but not on the beneficiary side.”

If we’re talking about cuts to medical device providers, that’s not a huge deal. There is a concern that provider cuts will result in denial of Medicare treatment, but it’s too big a market for everyone to stay out of. Of course, Republicans a) don’t want to do the trade for revenues, and b) might not want to do those specific cuts, although they probably don’t care, as long as they can run ads next year saying that Democrats cut Medicare.

David Dayen

David Dayen