Cantor Tries Softer Tone Ahead of Obama Speech
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is trying on a new set of rhetorical tools now that Congress is back from its August recess — a recess that started just as Americans voiced their displeasure in how the entire debt ceiling debate ended and Standard and Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating.
During the debt ceiling debate, Cantor often acted as attack dog — he dramatically walked out of debt ceiling talks with Vice President Biden, clashed with President Obama during meetings at the White House and drove a hard bargain on raising the debt ceiling without matching cuts.
But at a press briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Thursday afternoon, Cantor took a considerably softer tone. With President Obama set to address a joint session of Congress about his new jobs agenda, Cantor said he was looking for areas of agreement .
“There’s been a lot of rancor over the last several months in this town. Frankly because there are very, very strong opinions on both sides of every issue, especially as they relate to the fiscal health of our country and the proper way forward to promote economic growth,” Cantor said. “The people who elected us expect us to set aside those differences and reach toward some points of commonality so that we can work together to produce a result. The lack of result is the reason Congress has taken on such a bad light,” he added.
That doesn’t mean the leading House conservative is ready to necessarily accept President Obama’s entire jobs plan, which is likely to include proposals to extend the employee payroll tax holiday that expires at the end of the year and to create an infrastructure bank to fund the construction of roads and bridges.
Cantor said the extension of the employee payroll tax cut was “in the mix” of proposals that he would consider, in addition to an employer payroll tax cut. He shot down the infrastructure bank idea, however.
“I am wary of a suggestion of an infrastructure bank. I am one who agrees with the notion that infrastructure bank is like creating a Fannie and Freddie for roads and bridges,” Cantor said, adding that he did not think such a bank would be properly accountable to Congress. He suggested infrastructure spending could better be achieved at the state level.
Cantor also did not budge from the Republican line on tax increases: tax increases are a non-starter. He reiterated that Republicans see economic growth as the only way to raise government revenue. That issue will be front and center as the Super Committee charged with cutting at least $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit starts its task of identifying cuts by the end of November.
Cantor suggested as well that confidence in the American economy could somehow return if there was less partisan fighting in Washington.
“It may surprise us all how quickly optimism could return if the relations between the parties in this town could somehow improve and demonstrate that we can actually produce a result,” Cantor said.
“Let’s begin a process of setting aside differences and beginning to seek commonality.”
We will have to wait for the reaction to President Obama’s speech to see what that commonality is — or what result it might bring.
File photo of Eric Cantor by Getty Images.