Cantor’s Conservatism
The House majority leader discusses the successes and setbacks of GOP rebranding.

House majority leader Eric Cantor


Robert Costa

COSTA: What is your position on a path to legalization?

CANTOR: Again, I really think that we need to make sure that the committee does its work at the same time that the Gang of Eight is doing its work.

COSTA: Are you involved in the behind-the-scenes talks?

CANTOR: I’m in touch. I’m very much in touch with what’s going on.

COSTA: Beyond the Roby bill, immigration, and education, how else are you going to push for the “Making Life Work” project during the rest of this year? Is tax reform a part of your plan to appeal to working families?

CANTOR: Tax reform is squarely in the lane of what I think is needed to make life work for people. You look at working families that just completed the tax season, and they spent an inordinate amount of time and money to ensure compliance with the very complicated tax code. We all could personally benefit from a simpler code, and certainly from a fairness standpoint, by getting Washington out of the business of choosing whom it favors and who it doesn’t — getting all the corporate cronyism out of the code. It would allow the efficient flow of capital, which will allow us to grow. This is certainly a macro-competitiveness issue, but it is also one that speaks to human capital. If we want our economy to grow, we ought to empower and create the conditions for families to be all-in in their careers. They’ve got to be able to manage their households in a better way, and that’s what this agenda is trying to do. It’s trying to create the conditions for that to happen.

COSTA: Looking back, I did an interview with you in 2011, and the headline was “Obama’s Nemesis.” That reputation also came through in Bob Woodward’s book, The Price of Politics. You have long been seen as the White House’s antagonist.

CANTOR: I can’t put words in their mouth, but if you asked the White House now, they’d probably say the same thing about me. I’ve never wavered in my commitment to make sure that this town operates under the notion that it’s spending other people’s money. We need to always remember that because the taxpayers earned that money. And that’s why I so strongly oppose higher taxes. I think there’s a problem to be addressed here, because, unfortunately, this administration has not been able to bring itself to agree on a fix on the fiscal front. But we’re going to continue to try, all in the name of trying to create the conditions for economic growth, so families can see more opportunity.

COSTA: Do you see all of your work this year as a rebranding or marketing project, or is it a legislative project?

CANTOR: I think there’s a lot of ways that we can demonstrate that we’re putting conservative ideas to work. And it’s not just about ideas, it’s about ideas that produce results. That’s what this agenda is about. It is about making the case to the voters in the middle, to the people out there who are struggling, that conservative leadership is what is going to provide a brighter future.

COSTA: What has it been like at conference meetings trying to push these different bills? There’s been talk that you haven’t been able to get the votes for some of them.

CANTOR: There are things that people are going to have differences on, but I don’t think we differ on the fundamental philosophy that is at the core of these bills. With the Skills Act, for instance, the sponsor worked very hard to say, “It’s a conservative notion.” We want to make sure that we are getting rid of the unnecessary government efforts at workforce training. We realize that there are a lot of unemployed people out there right now, and the priority should be job creation. So, if we’ve got a problem, and the problem is that there are industries looking for skilled people, we can do something by getting government out of doing things that don’t make sense, and allowing the programs to help those who need the help.

COSTA: Have you reached out to the conservative groups that have opposed you on these initiatives?

CANTOR: There’s a constant dialogue with conservatives — with the Heritage Action folks and the Club for Growth. I was at Heritage yesterday, presenting a Maggie Thatcher resolution, and I was a student of Heritage policy papers before I got to Washington, and I continue to be. I think they maintain a position as a venerable think tank on the conservative side. Ed Feulner established Heritage’s tradition, and I know that Jim DeMint is going to continue that tradition.