His press shop is doing its best to contain the fallout before word travels to rank and file Republicans -- particularly the scores of House freshmen who may not be as well schooled in the art of negotiation as their leadership team. They insist that the Republicans starting point in negotiations remains the budget devised by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that they passed last month -- Medicare privatization and all.
The admission itself is surprising only insofar as it reveals candidly how marginal and conservative the GOP's Medicare plan really is. Republican leaders have acknowledged for weeks that there's no middle ground between the two parties on health care issues -- and thus that they adopted a radical plan to phase out Medicare to stake out a strong bargaining position.
Here's Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) in an early April press conference with Cantor: "I would say what is different about Social Security, again having served on the President's fiscal responsibility commission, clearly with the passage of the government takeover of health care, there is not a whole lot of common ground today between Republicans and Democrats on health care," he said. "Frankly, there may be some common ground on Social Security. We would like, if at all possible, to keep that particular option open. But the main thing is to force some type of solution."
But if there's no middle ground, then their plan is an all-or-none proposition. Cantor subtly admitted it's a no-go. The question now is how his members will react -- and how willing Senate Republicans, who have yet to vote on the Ryan plan, will be to stick their necks out now.