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How Eric Cantor wants to change the House – and the Republican Party

As the No. 2 Republican in the House, majority leader Eric Cantor will have his hands full navigating fired-up freshmen members through a series of controversial votes.

By / Staff writer / March 14, 2011

Six-term Republican Eric Cantor stands in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington. Mr. Cantor has risen quickly through his party’s leadership ranks.

Keith Lane/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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Richmond, Va.

From his first term in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor conveyed a sense that his rise through Republican ranks was inevitable.

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After securing an A-list assignment to the Ways and Means Committee, he was appointed to a seat at the leadership table as chief deputy whip.

Now, he is House majority leader, second only to Speaker John Boehner. It is his job to navigate a fired-up majority caucus through tough votes on spending, cuts to popular entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, and an increase in the national debt limit – a move that many GOP newcomers oppose. A misstep risks a government shutdown.

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"The wave election that occurred in November was the result of the public repudiating an agenda that seemed out of touch to a majority of Americans," Mr. Cantor says in an interview with the Monitor. "Now we need to translate that experience into governing as a majority."

This week could be a key test for Cantor. The diverse Republican caucus is becoming restive over the prospect that the House will vote on yet another stop-gap spending measure to keep the government running, rather than on a final budget for the last six months of this fiscal year – and it is Cantor's job to lead the majority to hold ranks for the vote this week.

“We've made some solid first downs on spending. Now it's time to look to the end zone,” complained Rep. Jim Jordan (R) of Ohio, who chairs the 176-member Republican Study Committee, in a statement Monday announcing his opposition to the latest House measure.

Without another such continuing resolution, funding for government runs out Friday. Cantor said in a press briefing Monday that GOP leaders expect that this three-week extension will be the last before a budget deal is struck with Democrats and the White House. "We hope and intend this to be the last one,” he said.

The lawmaker for Virginia's Seventh District is smart, tireless, and conspicuously polite. He's a prodigious fundraiser – giving more of his own campaign funds to other candidates than any other national politician for two of the past three election cycles. He also is the only Jewish Republican in the House or Senate.

After serving as chief deputy whip for Republicans for three terms, he became House minority whip in 2008. In a controversial move, he rallied House Republicans to vote unanimously against President Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill and signature health-care reform.

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