In a major policy speech on Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) called to grant citizenship to children of illegal immigrants while outlining policies concerning education, taxes, and flexibility in the workplace that he believed Republicans should champion to win over more working-class Americans.
In a speech titled "Making Life Work," Cantor said Republicans should focus on policies that will "ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams." He stressed Republicans should "restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits" and focus on "conservative principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family and accountability in government."
Cantor said he hoped he could come back in two years and "report back that our side, as well as the President's, found within us the ability to set differences aside, to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who simply want their life to work again."
One common-sense law Cantor encouraged Congress to pass is one that would give all employees and employers in the private sector an option to allow employees to convert previous overtime into future comp-time or flex time. In an era when employees often require workplace flexibility, Cantor said such a law would help parents attend school functions with their kids or take days off when their children got sick.
"A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she'll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent," Cantor explained. "This is the kind of common-sense legislation that should be non-controversial and moves us in the right direction to help make life work for families."
Cantor recounted while Congress passed a law in 1985 that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, it "still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector."
"That’s not right," he said.
He said working parents are worried about "saving for school, paying for braces, helping with homework and going from one after-school activity," plus finding an "affordable home in a good neighborhood" and a "health care plan" that allows them to see their doctors. Cantor said these concerns keep "parents awake at night fearful that life won't work out the way they hoped."
When it came to education, Cantor highlighted Rashawn Kelley and his sisters: Domonique, Shakeyta, and Rhunetta. They attended a private school in Washington, D.C. with Opportunity Scholarships, and Cantor said education dollars should follow students to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.
He said funding formulas where schools have incentives to "seek the more vulnerable population," such as people with disabilities and those learning English as a second language, should be promoted.
Cantor said if Congress allows the "money we currently spend to actually follow individual children," students, "including those without a lot of money or those with special needs, would be able to access the best available school, not just the failing school they are assigned to."
"A competitive environment, where schools compete for students rather than the other way around, gives every child from the inner city of Washington to the streets of Los Angeles, an equal chance at a greater destiny," Cantor said. "One of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable."
Cantor also vowed the House would act again in this Congress to pass the STEM Act, which would give permanent residency to immigrants who get advance degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from American universities. He urged the Senate to join the House to pass the STEM Act.
Cantor also called for tax simplification. He said, "we must stop putting special interests ahead of our working families’ best interests," when it comes to tax reform, and "loopholes and gimmicks benefiting those who've come to know how to work the system in Washington, are no more defensible than the path of wasteful and irresponsible spending we've been on for decades."
"Working families should come first," Cantor said. "Everyone agrees a fairer, simpler tax code would give us all more time."
Cantor also suggested Congress could start by repeating the medical device tax and modernize Medicare, "so it isn’t so complicated for seniors or health care providers and make it easier for them to get the care they need in a cost effective manner."
He also said, "we can provide states more flexibility with respect to Medicaid that will allow them to provide better care for low-income families in a way that ultimately lowers costs. Cantor said "options for states should include streamlining the process for determining eligibility, and allowing them to offer health coverage through patient-directed health care or flexible benefit programs."