Conservatives grumble at GOP leader Cantor’s bipartisan legislative efforts

The bipartisan efforts of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on a range of issues have attracted grumblings from the right.

Cantor recently has played a leading role in moving legislation on jobs, banning congressional insider trading, and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

The bank legislation easily passed the House on Wednesday, but it was rejected by 93 Republicans. Cantor crafted the compromise bill with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Opponents of the measure, including right-leaning organizations and blogs such as, Heritage Foundation and Club For Growth, ripped GOP leaders for moving what they deemed a “corporate welfare” program.

Club For Growth President Chris Chocola published an op-ed in Cantor’s hometown newspaper aimed squarely at the majority leader.

“The reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank is a case study in Washington bureaucrats picking winners and losers and interfering with the free market. It’s corporate welfare that is hurting economic growth and costing our nation jobs in one of the most stagnant economies in American history,” Chocola wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on April 8.

The Export-Import Bank is Cantor’s latest bipartisan endeavor. He spearheaded an effort in February to ban congressional insider trading. That bill passed the House, 417-2. And last month, Cantor accepted an invitation from the White House to attend the signing ceremony for a jobs bill the Virginia Republican shepherded through the lower chamber.

Club For Growth spokesman Barney Keller told The Hill, “It’s not bipartisanship when you do exactly what the Democrats and the president want. The president wanted on the Export-Import bank, a $40 billion increase in loan authority and they gave him a $40 billion increase in loan authority.”

Of course, Cantor is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Last year, congressional Democrats attacked him, claiming he was inflexible. Now that he has found common ground with Democrats, Cantor is taking fire from the right.

Cantor told The Hill that he hasn’t compromised his beliefs or principles in order to move legislation to the president’s desk.

“I never changed in the sense that what I believe bipartisanship is, is setting aside differences and finding areas of agreement. No one, no one expects anyone to compromise their principles, but we can cooperate to set aside differences to come together in areas of commonality. That is the spirit in which we’ve worked on a lot of these bills,” Cantor said.

The fact that GOP leaders relied on Democratic votes to pass the reauthorization did not go unnoticed by conservative insiders, who contend that such a pattern began following last summer’s deal to increase the debt limit.

Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action said that “there’s a real concern on the heels of the Budget Control Act last year that you’ve seen an increased tendency on the part of Republican leadership to look toward Democrats to secure votes they need as opposed to getting the votes from their conservatives. And if you are looking forward this year to the transportation bill or to a continuing resolution to get through the year, that’s a very concerning thing for groups like Heritage Action and for conservatives who sent a lot of these guys to Congress last time around and the members are concerned too.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said, “I think that piece by incremental piece, because we’re not confronting the president and not directly confronting [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.], you can say that there is an effort to bring artfully crafted legislation over there, but when we know that it won’t pass the Senate, we might as well put our mark on it and say this is what we believe in.”

He added centrist lawmakers have put pressure on Cantor to move bipartisan measures during this election year.

“I think there’s pressure from the left-wing of the Republican Party that is bringing about a lot of this legislation that avoids having a confrontational vote and I think that the conservatives are the ones out here that are sometimes holding their nose and sometimes walking away,” King said.

Other GOP lawmakers defended Cantor’s ability to get work done at a time when congressional approval ratings have hit record lows.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) applauded Cantor’s efforts and successful navigation of bipartisan legislation.

“I’ve always thought that Eric is the guy that is willing to work across the aisle to get things consistent with what our conference believes in done. And I think that he does it in a very politically savvy way. Why shouldn’t we be for a jobs bill that is consistent with our principles? Why shouldn’t we be for Export-Import bank recognizing that philosophically we wish this weren’t necessary but until we can persuade other countries, it is. I think Eric is much more pragmatic than he’s given credit for, and he’s trying to produce solutions and create records for this Congress that isn’t only opposition to the president but is also a matter of getting things done. When you want to do that, you have to have Democratic cooperation to work,” Cole said.

Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), a member of the House GOP leadership team said, “You know, most of us came here to get something done. It’s a good feeling when things get done. Habits are a difficult thing to change and when you begin to set a different pattern of habits — people working together, focusing on a common outcome — softening the edges, it’s actually a good habit to get started.”

Cantor conceded that the task has not been an easy one but, as legislators have been sent to Congress to legislate, he intends to keep trying.

“I think all of us are trying to drive towards results and the way that you drive towards results is, especially in an election year where everything is super political and heated, that you really work hard to set aside differences and find areas in which you can work to drive towards results that don’t offend people’s principles or philosophies,” Cantor said.

This article was updated at 6:09 p.m.