- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2010

Republican leaders pledged their willingness Sunday to go head to head with President Obama and Senate Democrats to fulfill election promises to cut government and improve the economy, but were circumspect about the importance of the “tea party” and whether the candidates it backed will have House leadership roles.

Rep. Eric Cantor, expected to lead the GOP as the House majority leader in the next Congress, would not promise that Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, or any other tea party-backed House member would get a high-ranking position, though the tea party movement’s agenda of fiscal responsibility helped Republicans gain seats in last week’s elections.

Mr. Cantor, now the House minority whip, said he will endorse Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, for conference chairman, the fourth-ranking position in the majority-party hierarchy.

Republicans largely remained quiet Sunday about their strategy for targeted government cutbacks and improving the lagging economy, other than to pledge not to increase taxes and to extend Bush-era tax cuts. However Sen.-elect Rand Paul, a tea party favorite who won in Kentucky, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would consider cuts to military spending - an idea that Republicans have largely opposed.

“Republicans never say they’ll cut anything out of military,” Mr. Paul said on ABC’s “This Week.” “What I say is: National defense is the most important thing we do in Washington, but there’s still waste in the military budget. You have to make it smaller.”

He also said he would consider raising the retirement age for Social Security but not immediately.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and a leading conservative, said cuts in defense, Medicare and Social Security were not options.

“No, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. … Cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table.”

Though Republican leaders indicated that tax issues, including a proposed extension of capital gains taxes, likely will be contentious, they said their biggest political battle with Mr. Obama and other Democrats could be over the health care reform act.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans have a responsibility to voters, including the large number of independents who helped decide midterm election outcomes, to repeal and replace the legislation.

However, he acknowledged that winning a full repeal will be difficult because Republicans will need a veto-proof majority and Democrats will have the political will to fight for the president’s “signature accomplishment.” Mr. McConnell said his office is looking for ways to cut funding for parts of the legislation, he said. Cutting funds to the Internal Revenue Service, which would enforce the legislation, is one idea being discussed.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said members of his party don’t think the Bush-era tax cuts are working because they have shown no signs of helping the economy. However, he said, he thinks the president is willing to compromise.

“I don’t see any sign of him retreating from his principles,” Mr. Van Hollen said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But I think he’d be willing to reach out when it means creating jobs.”

Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, also said Democrats in Washington still “don’t get” the depth of voter dissatisfaction with them, despite overwhelming election losses across the country.

Democrats “are saying, ‘We’re [still] not listening to you. We think we’re right. We’re going to follow the same course,’ ” Mr. Cantor said.

He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, puts ideology first. Mrs. Pelosi indicated last week that she would not step down from her Democratic leadership position.

On the potential leadership fights among Republicans, Mr. Cantor said, Ms. Bachmann was also a “very good” candidate for a committee chairmanship and the tea party had “tremendous, positive” impact on the elections. He added that a post for Mr. Hensarling “doesn’t mean the tea party doesn’t deserve something.”

Sen.-elect Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who was elected Tuesday, said that while he won with “broad support” from the tea party, he would not commit to becoming part of a tea party caucus. “I’d consider that,” he said on CNN. “I’d see what it means.”

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