As Republicans confronted President Barack Obama in another budget battle last week, their leadership included another new face: Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who as the party’s chief vote wrangler is as responsible as anyone for the tough line the party has taken in this first legislative standoff with Obama. This battle has vaulted Cantor to the front lines of his party as it tries to recover from the losses of November.
As Republican whip, Cantor succeeded again on Friday in denying the White House the support of a single House Republican on the stimulus bill. That was a calculated challenge to the president, who, in his weekly address on Saturday, hailed the bill as “an ambitious plan at a time we badly need it.”
Cantor said he had studied Gingrich’s years in power and had been in regular touch with him as he sought to help his party find the right tone and message. Indeed, one of Gingrich’s leading victories in unifying his caucus against Clinton’s package of tax increases to balance the budget in 1993 has been echoed in the events of the last few weeks.
RONALD REAGAN started it, Bill Clinton finished it and last week Barack Obama was accused of engineering its destruction. One of the few undisputed triumphs of American government of the past 20 years – the sweeping welfare reform programme that sent millions of dole claimants back to work – has been plunged into jeopardy by billions of dollars in state handouts included in the president’s controversial economic stimulus package.