As Republicans recover from losses in Presidential and Congressional races last fall, many are working to rebrand the party to be more accessible and more inclusive. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this afternoon, Virginia Congressman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sought to do exactly that. He urged his party to place more emphasis on education, health care and other "kitchen table" issues. He said the debt remains an important — but not the exclusive — GOP concern.
To talk about what the speech means for Cantor and the Republican party is Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper.
What struck you most as you listened to Cantor this afternoon?
"The most interesting part of the speech was its theme — specifically moving away from fiscal issues, which have dominated the debate entirely in the last two years. Republicans have been all about cutting spending the last two years, and Democrats have been all about fighting those spending cuts and pushing for tax increases. After the 2012 election, Cantor is trying to move the discussion passed fiscal issues onto turf that is traditionally thought of as Democratic strengths."
"For instance, education. He talked about creating a weighted student formula, so that schools that attract more students can attract more funding. He talked about the Republican priority to "move heaven and earth" to fix the education system for the most vulnerable. This is language that you would expect from a Democrat, not the Republican Majority Leader in the House."
He also talked about workforce reform. He said hourly employees should have the ability to convert previous overtime to flextime and future comp time. He talked about modernizing Medicaid and Medicare so it isn't so complicated."
What impact can a speech like this really have?
"The speech changes the tone in Washington, or at least it tries to. Republicans have been so fixed on the issue of the debt and deficit spending that they've become pigeon-holed. They realize they need to attract more voters in the middle. This is the first step towards doing that."
How are Democrats responding to shifting approaches from Republicans?
"Democrats say that this is the same old GOP policy book with a brand new cover. This is shiny packaging and not a whole lot else. For instance, on the school funding proposal that Cantor talked about, they said it was very similiar to the proposal Mitt Romney made during the campaign. And they said it's not very important or its overshadowed by Republican demands to cut education spending dramatically in the fiscal debate. On Medicare, they say that President Obama has already made efforts to streamline the program and that Republicans are more interested in converting Medicare into a voucher-based program instead of making it easier for seniors and healthcare providers."