Cantor Moving Legislation Aimed at Rehabing GOP Brand

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 11, 2013 at 2:02pm

With House Republicans taking fire from every angle, including inside their party, for failing to connect their philosophical principles to voters’ everyday concerns, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is taking action.

With the blessing of the leadership team and top GOP committee chairmen, the Virginia Republican is spearheading a host of legislation that is somewhat remarkable both in what it does, and does not, attempt to address. In the traditional sense, these bills are not focused on reducing the deficit, shrinking the national debt or limiting the size and scope of government. They are focused on using Washington’s power levers to influence public policy.

That effort began last week with the introduction of the SKILLS Act, legislation aimed at improving job training. Whether House Republicans handled the roll out of the SKILLS Act to maximize the public relations aspect of the bill is another story. The introduction was drowned out by coverage of the continuing resolution, an East Coast snow storm and Sen. Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., filibuster. But Cantor made clear that there is more to come on this front.

“The SKILLS Act is a common sense idea that helps working men and women get access to better training opportunities so they can in turn get better jobs,” the majority leader said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call. “The House will be focused this year on positive steps like this, that produce immediate results, and help working families.”

Cantor is expected to talk more about his legislative strategy this week when he addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference. The exact sequence of bills has yet to be determined, but next up could be legislation designed to improve workforce flexibility. Following that could be a bill that directs the federal government to stop funding research into social science in favor of hard science such as medical research.

The point, if it’s not obvious, is to show voters that Republicans care about curing diseases and that they’re not opposed to investing taxpayer dollars to achieve results while simultaneously ending what many conservatives deride as silly expenditures. The motivation behind addressing workforce flexibility? Make it easier for parents to take time off from work for things such as pediatrician visits. Also coming soon: Making the college student loan process more transparent and mandating public school choice for poor kids and their parents.

GOP sources tell me that Cantor isn’t trying to alter the House Republicans’ relentless focus on fiscal issues — not that that is even possible.

But the majority leader does appear to recognize that the Republican Party has to stand for more than balanced budgets and entitlement reform to succeed on Election Day. Cantor is realistic about how the Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to handle this legislation. But he is hoping that he can at least force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stuffer when he tries to explain why he opposes a bill that would make it easier for parents to take time off from work to spend time with their kids — and in the process give voters a reason to take a second look at the GOP.

“These are policies that we think would help working families immediately, and we don’t want them on the back burner anymore,” a GOP source said.