- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A top House Republican yesterday said the leadership must steer disheartened rank-and-file members from adopting a centrist or “Pelosi-lite” agenda and instead reaffirm conservative principles, or risk deepening the political grave the party dug for itself under President Bush.

“The job of the conference right now is to not allow us to slip into [saying] we’re going to just be like them. We’re going to go and just be Pelosi-lite and go with their solutions and try and slip by this election,” said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican chief deputy whip.

Mr. Cantor, in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, acknowledged that too many Republicans willingly cast votes in line with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

But he held out hope Republicans would find their political footing today after a conference meeting during which the leadership and members are expected to clash over the direction of the party.

Republicans are reeling from a series of embarrassing losses in special House elections in conservative districts long held by the party, highlighting problems the party faces in November.

“The challenge is … the public looks at the Bush administration in the last seven or eight years as a time in which the government did not fix any problems, a time in which we’ve gone to war, the execution has not necessarily been that which the public expected, the threat continues to grow outside on the terrorist front and countries that sort of wish to do us harm have continued to grow in strength,” Mr. Cantor said.

He said breaking with that past likely will require “taking some positions that are not popular within our conference,” a course he said is being charted by a small faction of House Republicans.

“We don’t have the votes for the right position,” he said. “The right position is the moratorium on earmarks. The right position is vote against the farm bill. The right position is get out there and talk about the things that are really underlying the problems facing people.”

Members have resisted to declaring a self-imposed moratorium on spending earmarks, a key issue in the quest to re-establish Republicans as the party of fiscal responsibility.

A majority of the conference, including half of the leadership team, last week voted for the Democrat-authored farm bill that the president has promised to veto because it busts the budget. Some members defended it as costing $58 billion less than the 2002 version Republicans wrote and Mr. Bush signed.

Mr. Cantor said if Republicans are to regain the voters’ trust the party must better address “kitchen table” issues such as the rising cost of gasoline, which he called the public’s No. 1 concern.

Democrats’ reluctance to increase domestic oil drilling or build new refineries, he said, puts Republicans in a better position to address the country’s energy woes.

He said the party also must return to its core values, including free-market economics, limited government, fiscal responsibility and national security.

“We need to remake who we are, we need to act who we are, and we need to tell people who we are,” he said.

“I don’t know if our base really knows who Republicans are anymore, and we’ve got to go about the work of doing that because we only have six months” before the November elections, Mr. Cantor said.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.



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