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Top Republican tries to usher GOP past dollars and cents


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sought to lead Republicans past their dollars-and-cents fights of the last two years, arguing Tuesday for a more expansive agenda that resonates with a broader scope of Americans.

As the GOP works to redefine itself in the wake of an electoral drubbing last fall, Cantor outlined a series of policies he said Republicans would pursue over the next two years. The agenda includes staples of Republican politics — tax and entitlement reforms, for instance — but also education, immigration and research and development, particularly in the sciences.

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"In Washington, over the past few weeks and months, our attention has been on cliffs, debt ceilings and budgets, on deadlines and negotiations," Cantor said at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington. "But today, I'd like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates. 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."

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., speaks to the media following a Republican Conference meeting on Feb. 5, 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The speech fits squarely within the rubric of reinvention sought by the GOP at the advent of President Barack Obama's second term. The Virginia congressman offered generally familiar proposals, couched in the rhetoric of middle class advancement. This "softer" approach to policy-making squares with an emerging Republican consensus that the party does not necessarily need to change its policies so much as frame them in a way that is more relevant to middle class, minority, and women voters.

To that extent, Cantor was flanked at moments during his speech by students from schools in inner-city Washington, a master's student from China looking to stay in America, a nurse from Baltimore looking for a more flexible work schedule, and a former intern of Cantor's who benefited from improved medical technology.

Cantor sought with his speech to put a newer, more accessible face on the Republican Party; whether he'll succeed is a question that might not be answered for two or four more years.

Republican Eric Cantor calls for legal residence and citizenship for children brought here illegally by their parents and a guest-worker program, at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington conservative think tank.

First Read: Cantor's shift on immigration

One policy shift Cantor did announce was in regard to immigration. The No. 2 House Republican embraced the thrust of the so-called DREAM Act, a piece of immigration legislation looking to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a pathway to 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," he said.

Other points of emphasis were familiar to any observers of the contemporary GOP.

On education, Cantor called for increased access to vouchers, more efficient spending per student, cost transparency in college tuition and fuller disclosure to students about the career prospects associated with different degrees.

On immigration, Cantor endorsed easier access to green cards to immigrants with high-level degrees, a reformed guest worker program and stronger employee verification tools.

And in an appeal to middle class workers, Cantor endorsed giving all employees greater flex-time at work and simpler simpler ways to file taxes.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., is set to make a speech on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at the American Enterprise Institute on "Making Life Work."

On top of this, Cantor appealed to Republican staples: comprehensive tax reform and reforms to Medicare (including streamlined provider networks, and increased leeway for states to administer their own programs).

The recurring theme, though, for Cantor involved an appeal directed intently toward middle class voters.

"Government policy should aim to strike a balance between what is needed to advance the next generation, what we can afford, what is a federal responsibility and what is necessary to ensure our children are safe, healthy and able to reach their dreams," Cantor said.