House Majority Leader Eric Cantor presents a ‘softer’ Republican agenda to appeal to alienated voters
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor yesterday unveiled a ‘softer’ Republican agenda in an attempt to appeal to groups – namely women, seniors, Hispanic and other minorities – alienated by conservatives during the 2012 elections.
Toning down the Republican Party’s austere policy positions and prevailing attitude of “my way or the highway”, Cantor’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute struck a conciliatory tone and tried to connect the “conservative values” with serving the interests of “working families”.
The Republican agenda, Cantor said, would create “the conditions of wealth, happiness, and prosperity for more Americans and their families and to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits.”
“Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust and friends, and accountability in government,” said Cantor. “Our goal is to ensure that every American has a fair shot to earn success and achieve their dreams.”
Another notable shift in tone is how Cantor addressed the need to cut government spending to reduce the deficit. Throughout the 2012 elections, Republicans have used the “moral imperative” language to justify reducing the deficit by steeply cutting any government spending that’s not related to the military. This time, however, Cantor co-opted the Democrat’s favorite term in the deficit reduction debate: balance.
“Government policies [have] got to strike a balance between what is needed to advance the next generation, and what is necessary to ensure our children are safe, healthy, and able to reach their dreams,” Cantor explained.
Based on the priorities that Cantor outlined, however, deficit reduction will be achieved primarily through cuts to health care entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Here are the legislative priorities that Cantor outlined:
1. Reform public school education by giving parents, particularly those who live in the inner-city, vouchers to send their children to private or charter schools.
On this subject, Cantor cited the plight of Joseph Kelly, an African-American father of 4 who obtained a court order to force the Washington D.C. school district to provide a tutor for his son, Rashawn. The D.C. school administrators designated Rashawn as a “special ed” student, but Kelly eventually was able to transfer his son and 3 daughters to a private school, where his children excelled academically. Rashawn is now in college.
“Joseph Kelly nor any parent should have to wait for failed education
systems, failed school systems, to get their acts together,” said Cantor. “Allow the money we currently spend actually follow individual
children. Students, including those without a lot of money or those
with special needs, would be able to access a school, which would give
them a shot at having a successful life – a shot at earning their
success and achieving their dreams – and wouldn’t be just subjected to
the failing schools that they were assigned to. Their options ought to
include not just public schools, private schools but also charter
In addition to providing school vouchers to parents, Cantor proposed to set up an incentive system to compel schools to “compete for students” similar to San Francisco’s adoption of the “weighted student formula”, which would provide higher funding for schools that attract more students, particularly those with learning disability, from low-income households, or are learning English as a second language. Establishing a competitive environment in which schools have to “seek the more vulnerable population” and differentiate themselves by improving education would give “every child from the inner cities of Washington to the streets of Los Angeles an equal chance at a greater destiny”, Cantor reasoned.
2. Reform college education and student loan programs.
Citing the unsustainable rise in higher education costs, Cantor called for improved transparency. He said colleges should inform prospective students and their parents on what the tuitions cover, including a clear breakdown on how much the school spends on academics versus amenities. In addition, prospective students and parents should have access to “reliable information on the employment rate and potential earnings by major.”
“Armed with those knowledge, families and students can make better
decisions about where to go to school and how to budget their tuition
dollars. Students would actually have a better chance of graduating
within 4 years and getting a job,” said Cantor.
Cantor also proposed reforming the federal student aid program to encourage students to complete their degrees within 4 years.
3. Grant green cards to foreign students who earn a Master’s or Ph.D. degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) from an American university.
4. Reform and streamline the “patchwork of over 47″ federal job training programs.
5. Change the federal law to allow hourly wage workers in the private sector to “convert previous overtime into future comp time or flex time” so working parents could take time off from work to spend with their children for field trips, parent-teacher conference, other school events, or sick days.
“A working mom or a working dad could make overtime now and reap the benefits of it when their kids need them, and they wouldn’t have to miss work so they could still pay the rent,” said Cantor.
6. Reform and simplify the nation’s tax code.
“Tax reform should reflect the priority of working families and the future they’re trying to shape for their kids,” said Cantor, who specified that the child tax credit should be retained.
However, closing the “special interest loopholes” could mean eliminating or imposing caps on many of the popular tax credits and deductions benefitting middle-class families, such as the mortgage interest and charitable deductions.
7. Reform the country’s immigration system, including allowing children of undocumented immigrants to earn their citizenship.
“It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home,” said Cantor.
He expressed support for the Senate’s bipartisan efforts on immigration reform, particularly their emphasis on improving border security, employment verification, and creating a guest worker visa program.
8. Repeal the new taxes, including the medical device tax, under the Affordable Care Act, which Cantor argued will drive up the cost of health care and health insurance. However, repealing those tax revenues would add to the deficit.
9. Reform Medicare to reduce costs and simplify the system for seniors. One of Cantor’s suggestions is reminiscent of a managed care model.
10. Reform Medicaid to give states more flexibility to offer less coverage, to streamline the process for determining eligibility, and to obtain federal waivers faster to reduce costs.
11. Continue federal funding for medical research.
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