New team, same rules

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks to reporters on Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks to reporters on Tuesday. (Charles Dharapak)
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

For incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his House Republicans, something strange happened on the way to Wednesday's "Opening Day" of the new Congress.

For two years, Cantor and his colleagues campaigned against high deficits. Now, in the new majority's first major act, they plan to vote to increase the deficit by $143 billion as part of a repeal of health-care reform.

For two years, Cantor and his colleagues bemoaned the Democrats' abuse of House rules to circumvent committees and to prevent Republicans from offering amendments. Now, Cantor confirmed on Tuesday, Republicans will employ the very same abuses as they attempt the repeal.

For two years, the Republicans complained about unrelenting Democratic partisanship. Now they're planning no fewer than 10 investigations of the Obama administration, and the man leading most of those has already branded Obama's "one of the most corrupt administrations" in history.

For two years, the Republican minority vowed to return power to the people. Now the House Republican majority is asking lobbyists which regulations to repeal, hiring lobbyists to key staff positions and hobnobbing with lobbyists at big-ticket Washington fundraisers.

Even before the speaker's gavel is passed at noon from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner, it would appear that the Republicans are determined to form just as arrogant and overreaching a majority as the one they defeated.

Slate's John Dickerson questioned Cantor about this conundrum at a session the incoming majority leader had with reporters in his new offices Tuesday afternoon. Recalling that Obama settled a 2009 argument with Cantor by reminding the lawmaker that "we won" the election, Dickerson asked Cantor: "Why shouldn't Democrats take that same message from the way you've structured things with the repeal of health care?"

Cantor's answer? We won.

"It has been litigated according to the American people," he said. "What the American people are saying by the outcome of this election is we don't like this outside-the-mainstream agenda we've seen coming from Washington these last two years," he added.

This claim that the election gave Republicans a sweeping mandate was a recurring trope in Cantor's question-and-answer session. "We know very clearly that that election was a repudiation of what had gone on in this town," he said. In particular, he said, the election was a repudiation of health-care reform.

"We just need to repeal it as the American people have spoken out and said," Cantor argued. What's more, Cantor said, "the American people are expecting quick action," and if Democrats in the Senate try to block the Republicans' agenda, "they'll have to answer to the American people."

This was a rather expansive interpretation of the mandate voters gave Republicans in November. In exit polls, 48 percent said the new law should be repealed - while a nearly identical 47 percent said it should be left in place or expanded. Among voters that day, 41 percent held a favorable view of Republicans, no better than the 44 percent who thought favorably of the Democrats and Obama.

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