Rep. Cantor On House GOP: "We Are In Essence A Blocking Minority"

October 03, 2011 3:56 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Over the past few years, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has earned the reputation of a partisan warrior, unfailingly committed to defeating President Obama's agenda. Cantor often pays lip service to "compromise" in the press, but his leadership of a reactionary House majority speaks for itself. According to Jason Zengerle's profile of the Virginia congressman in New York magazine, Cantor appreciates exactly how House Republicans have governed with him and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) running the show: "[W]e are in essence a blocking minority," he said. 

In early January, at a closed-door retreat for the GOP caucus in Baltimore, Cantor gave a speech trying to reframe the debt ceiling as "a leverage moment" over Obama. "I made the point that, look, this is an opportunity for us because we are in essence a blocking minority in Washington," he told me. "We control half of one-third of government, and so we can for sure block bad things from happening legislatively. But it's hard when you are in the majority in just the House to try and proffer and accomplish the kinds of things you want if the other side is not going to go along with it. And it's hard to even start to compromise or find some points of agreement when you're in this kind of supercharged political environment. So I looked at, What is really must-pass? What is it that's going to have to see the House joining with the president and the Senate to get something done?"

That's not a slip of the tongue: Cantor recognizes that having a majority in the House does not put Republicans in the position to dictate policy to Democrats in charge of the Senate and the White House. Therefore, the appropriate role of House Republicans is to "block bad things" — essentially any Democratic policy idea — and join with Democrats on "must-pass" legislation.

Cantor's behavior, however, reflects a different philosophy. It says that midterm voters gave the House GOP a mandate to chase ideological fantasies, such as replacing Medicare benefits with undervalued coupons, and to make "must-pass" bills contingent on GOP policies that could not pass otherwise.

Meanwhile, the observation that it's "hard" to compromise "in this kind of supercharged political environment" is both accurate and absurd, since Cantor's role in creating the existing climate and his ability to change it are virtually unmatched.