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.
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At the time, Republicans were in their seventh year of controlling the House. Speaker Newt Gingrich had lost a high-profile standoff with President Clinton over spending. Majority whip Tom DeLay's K Street Project – a bid to pressure Washington's corporate-lobby firms to hire more Republicans and contribute to GOP campaigns – fueled charges that GOP leaders were selling access.Skip to next paragraph
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As he had in Richmond, Cantor became a strong advocate of expanding opportunities for business, but without the scandal associated with Mr. DeLay. "He's clean as a hound's tooth," says Mr. Cullen.
What appealed to GOP leaders was Cantor's ability to reach out to both business groups and Jewish voters and give a fresh face to Republican leadership. His main district office is in an industrial park in Glen Allen, flanked by headquarters of banks, health-care associations, and insurance companies.
The 'young guns' strategy
In 2007, Cantor cofounded the "young guns" program to recruit and fund "a new generation of conservative leaders." Of the 92 young guns in the 2010 campaign, 62 are now serving in the House. They are driving a new majority that says it aims to shift Congress from a culture of overspending to a focus on oversight and budget cutting.
Since the new Congress convened, Cantor has been quietly meeting with freshmen for small, social dinners twice a week. To date, he's met with more than 90 percent of the GOP freshman class.
Like Speaker Boehner, Cantor dismisses calls to "control" the new lawmakers. But with the Senate opposed to anything like the $61 billion in cuts passed by the House, and with House freshmen committed to maintaining those cuts, GOP leaders have a big struggle on their hands.
Cantor boils his leadership approach down to a single rule, posted on cards in his office: "Are my efforts addressing job creation and the economy; are they reducing spending; and are they shrinking the size of the Federal Government while increasing and protecting liberty? If not, why am I doing it? Why are WE doing it?"
A fan of social networking, Cantor launched a plan last May to encourage voters to make recommendations for wasteful or ineffective programs to cut, which he dubbed YouCut. The plan in the new Congress has been to offer a YouCut item for an up-or-down vote each week the House is in session.
Democrats dub these cuts "website gimmicks" and "popularity contests," but the first proposal, to end duplicative government printing, passed unanimously. A subsequent vote to abolish presidential-election campaign funds picked up 10 Democratic votes, although other proposed cuts have not fared as well.
It is not inevitable, Cantor says, that Republicans will wind up shutting down the government. He says in the Monitor interview: "Where we will coalesce will be around ... job creation and growing the economy."
IN PICTURES: Will these Republicans run in 2012?