Cantor keeps peace among chairmen

The first year of the new House Republican majority has been marked by infighting, but conflict among the committee chairmen has almost been nonexistent. 

Despite high-profile issues and potential jurisdictional turf battles, flare-ups among the gavel-wielding lawmakers have been rare.

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Committee chairmen say communication has been the key, crediting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for keeping the peace.

In an interview on Thursday, Cantor told The Hill that his relationship with the committee chairmen is strong, but it can get lively at times.

At the beginning of this year, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — a former panel chairman — tapped Cantor with the committee-herding responsibility.

Cantor has taken his position as chairman coordinator and run with it, according to Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

“The natural style of Speaker Boehner now is one of [being] engaged but not running the show,” Issa said, adding that Cantor is “doing the work of potentially de-conflicting, certainly making sure that communication is flowing.”

Cantor holds regular meetings where committee chairmen’s attendance is mandatory. The aim of the gatherings is to ensure that the GOP team is on the same page at the start of each week when the House is in session. 

Cantor said he expects committee chairmen to follow the guiding rule that was established shortly after the Republicans regained control of the House in November. 

On a side table in his third-floor Capitol office, Cantor displays a copy of the so-called “Cantor Rule” on laminated faux parchment that reads: “Are my efforts addressing job creation and the economy? Are they reducing spending? Are they shrinking the size of the federal government while protecting and expanding liberty? If not, why am I doing it?”

Identical signs of the “three-lane rule” can be found on the desks and office space of his staff. 

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who has met with Cantor on several occasions over the past week , said that the meetings are particularly helpful. 

“It’s an excellent procedure, it lets all of us know what each of us are doing. It’s good sharing of intelligence,” Rogers said. 

The setting allows committee chairmen and their aides (usually the staff director) to engage in an honest exchange of information and brainstorming.

While there have been a few jurisdictional skirmishes that have attracted headlines this year, most of the battles have been hashed out around the table, rather than in the press. 

Cantor said, “Obviously, as any family, you always have lively discussions at times, but you try to get up from the table having some general sense of where things are heading.” 

Cantor never served as a panel chairman, but sat on the Ways and Means Committee during the reign of Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who wasn’t shy in defending — and expanding — his committee’s jurisdiction. 

“I served on Bill Thomas’s committee, so I sort of saw the M.O., and he was very forceful in guarding the jurisdiction of that committee. Look, we have those discussions now, believe me,” Cantor said. 

On hot-button issues, such as President Obama’s healthcare reform law, for which several committees have jurisdiction, Cantor makes sure to hold smaller meetings with the relevant chairmen to iron out any difficulties. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who has been holding hearings on Solyndra and the president’s healthcare law, concurred that Cantor has deflected potentially dicey jurisdictional battles with the weekly meetings.

“There’s an agenda, there’s a lot of interaction and cohesion, and for the most part, no real duplication,” Upton said.