Ihouse Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday tried to paint his Republican party as compassionate and willing to let the federal government take a bigger role in improving constituents' lives.
In what was billed as a major speech, the Virginia Republican told the conservative American Enterprise Institute the government has a role in education, health care and child care.
The speech was seen as an effort to soften the image of the House Republican party, an image battered in recent years because of its insistence on slashing domestic programs. Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, is seen as having a strong following among hardcore conservatives.
"I’m pleased that many of my colleagues in both chambers of Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun work in good faith to address these issues," Cantor said.
He also praised colleagues for starting to deliberate on overhauling the nation's immigration system.
"It’s the right thing to do for our families, for our security, and for our economy," he said. "There are some who would rather avoid fixing the problem in order to save this as a political issue. I reject this notion and call on the President to help lead us towards a bipartisan solution rather than encourage the common political divisions of the past."
He got some encouraging reaction. "If House Republicans can adapt their agenda to match Leader CAntor's word, this Congress could surprise people with productive it can be," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
On health care, Cantor proposed modernizing Medicare to make it less complex and efficient.
"We should begin by ending the arbitrary division between Part A, the hospital program, and Part B, the doctor services. We can create reasonable and predictable levels of out-of-pocket expenses without forcing seniors to rely on Medigap plans," he said. "Seniors who choose to receive their health care treatment through a group of doctors and hospitals working together to control costs, should share in the savings through lower Medicare premiums and out of pocket costs. This is both cost effective and good for seniors."
Longer term health care costs, Cantor said, "will require smarter federal investments in medical research. Many of today’s cures and life saving treatments are a result of an initial federal investment. And much of it is spent on cancer research and other grave illnesses."
At one point, he turned to job training, saying, "job markets are changing, more skills training and education are needed. Federal jobs training programs ought to make it easier for Americans who are out of work or who are changing careers to get the skills they need.
"Yet today, the federal government has a patchwork of over 47 different overlapping programs that are not dynamic or innovative enough to meet the needs of employers or potential employees. We can fix this, and we should be able to muster bipartisan support to do so."