WASHINGTON–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered a preview of a rebranded GOP agenda for the new House term Tuesday, arguing for more expansive initiatives in education, health care and immigration as the Republican Party seeks to broaden its appeal to growing demographics of women and minorities.
Cantor’s ideas reflect a Republican party in transition, working to redefine itself in the wake of 2012 elections that saw President Barack Obama’s reelection and the addition of Democratic seats in both chambers of Congress.
Though the Virginia Republican ceded no ground on the fiscal issues over which he and his colleagues spar with Obama, Cantor struck a tone of compromise in urging House Republicans to focus on “what lies beyond” the budget issues to areas that affect middle class families, including innovation and jobs.
One of Obama’s fiercest opponents over the past two years, Cantor offered his vision for the 113th Congress’ agenda at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, insisting that the party maintain its focus on spending cuts while incorporating plans that are more accessible to changing voter demographics.
“Over the next two years, the House majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families,” Cantor said, adding that he hoped Republicans and Obama could set differences aside to help ordinary Americans.
The speech, titled “Making Life Work,” seemed to recast the GOP’s conservative policy agenda in a way that is more appealing to women, young people and minorities, groups that favored Democrats last November and that pose a major threat to GOP prospects in the future..
Some of his proposed agenda items include granting more visas for highly educated immigrant workers parents and making work schedules more flexible for mothers. Cantor also called for increased access for parents to school vouchers and education tax credits to send children to private schools.
In a policy shift, Cantor called for a change in immigration law to allow children who entered the U.S. illegally as minors to stay in the country under certain conditions, part of the Obama platform that has long met Republican opposition.
“It is time to provide an opportunity for citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home,” he said.
With regard to education reform, the second-ranking House Republican said students and parents should be better informed about job prospects for specific majors and the peril of college loan debt.
Cantor invited several people whom he cited as examples in his speech, including a Washington D.C. family that benefitted from charter school education and a graduate school student from China who wants to stay in the U.S.
While Cantor was low on specifics, he said the party needs to do a better job of explaining why traditional conservative policy “makes life better.” Though no legislation has been drafted, he said he plans to move forward with the proposed agenda items in the weeks ahead.
“It is my hope that I can stand before you in two years and report back that our side as well as the president’s found within us the ability to set differences aside, to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who simply want their lives to work again,” Cantor said.