House Majority Leader Eric Cantor looked under the hoods of cars at the Northern Virginia Community College's auto shop on Thursday -- a fitting tour considering the miles he's racking up promoting a new legislative agenda.
Since February, through speeches at the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard University and beyond, Cantor has outlined elements of the "Making Life Work" agenda, which places less emphasis on federal budget math and more on education, medical research and flexible work time.
"Over the next two years, our House majority will pursue an agenda that is based on a shared vision of creating the conditions of health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families and to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits," he said at AEI in early February.
It has been described as a softer message for the GOP. But Cantor, R-7th, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in February that while Republicans are still committed to fiscal discipline, they haven't "completed the sentence, which is: We're trying to do this to help people."
Cantor visited the community college to promote the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act, which, among other things, would streamline federal job-training programs. On Friday, he gave a full-throated endorsement of school choice at a conservative confab.
"One of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable," he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
He noted his recent visits to Louisiana to learn more about the education policies pursued by Gov. Bobby Jindal and to the Preparatory School of DC.
Cantor has cited stories of 7th District residents when calling for federal research dollars to be measured against their capacity to help patients, and for legislation allowing more flexibility with comp and flex time.
He also advocates for modernizing Medicare and giving states more flexibility with Medicaid, and has touched on immigration reform. It's time, he has said, "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."
Asked after the NVCC event about the new agenda, Cantor said: "The whole essence of trying to get the budget to balance is to promote a growing economy."
He said the GOP always sought to address problems at the federal level that can "negatively impact people."
"There are so many millions of working families out there who just ... you know they wake up and, I know, can't believe how hard it is," he said. "We're just trying to make their life work again, make it easier for those who are unemployed to get back to work; that's what the SKILLS Act is about."
The SKILLS Act narrowly passed the House on Friday but the White House is opposed, saying that it would eliminate, or possible consolidate, targeted programs and freeze funding for several years.
Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said he thinks Republicans are aiming to stick with the same principles, but deliver the message differently.
"(Cantor's) focus on that message would indicate to me they're trying to find a different way of presenting the Republican outlook and plan to people," he said.
The new message also follows the November elections, when Republicans failed to regain the White House, with Cantor's home state also once again backing President Barack Obama.
Jesse Ferguson, deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said there's "tremendous irony" to Cantor talking about making life work and then pushing forward a budget next week "that slashes education, turns Medicare into a voucher and makes life work better for corporate special interests and millionaires."
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