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We care: Cantor wants to give GOP a 'makeover', change the message

By Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0116 GMT (0916 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is changing tactics, pushing for a more personal, caring Republican party
  • Cantor was one of the strongest GOP voices during the fiscal cliff debates
  • The No. 2 House Republican will unveil his plan in a speech on Tuesday

Washington (CNN) -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is giving the Republican party a message makeover.

In a sharp departure from the GOP's emphasis on slashing federal spending, bringing down the deficit and moving legislation to assist the "job creators," the No. 2 House Republican is rolling out a more personal appeal in a speech on Tuesday with an agenda to "make life work."

Cantor is hoping to put last year's bruising fiscal battles that pit House Republicans against President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats behind and turn the page to a new approach that demonstrates the GOP cares about problems Americans confront in their daily lives.

The speech comes one week before Obama is expected to outline his second term agenda in the State of the Union address.

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According to prepared remarks released by Cantor's office on Monday, the majority leader will highlight four main areas - education, health care, job growth, and innovation.

"Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family, and accountability in government," Cantor is expected to say in his speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

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Cantor's tone and the substance of his speech are a departure from previous major speeches he's delivered that centered on helping small businesses expand the economy.

"He's going to be talking about bread and butter issues -- from one parent to another," a senior Cantor aide familiar with the speech told CNN.

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But Cantor's office stressed that these policy proposals are not in lieu of the House Republican's goal of enacting major spending cuts and reducing the nation's deficit.

They are meant to compliment that focus and show that the GOP understands the challenges of families, not just businesses.

This aide said this message focuses on those areas Republicans believe should be given a priority and where the federal government has a role.

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Some of the proposals include items that the GOP-led House has already tackled in legislation in the last Congress, including an immigration bill for so-called "STEM" visas that would allow students born outside the United States who are enrolled in American universities studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to stay after they graduate and get jobs with U.S. companies.

Cantor will point out that the United States should remain a leading force in scientific innovation.

"For this and many other reasons, people across the globe want to become a part of our country. We must never diminish that desire, or worse, become a place that is no longer desirable," he said.

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But in a nod to the coming internal fight within Republican ranks about just how far the party is willing to go on immigration, Cantor will also say, "We must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for the people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life, and contribute to America."

A commitment to reforming the nation's schools to help those "most vulnerable" is also a key part of Cantor's message.

House Republicans previously authorized funding for a Washington-based school voucher program championed by House Speaker John Boehner and one Obama sought to eliminate.

In a show of support, Cantor visited a school in the Petworth neighborhood on Monday to discuss his plan to continue supporting the program.

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Tuesday's speech is also a makeover of sorts for Cantor's own image.

He was a central player in contentious bipartisan talks in 2011 to come up with a deficit reduction plan and raise the debt ceiling with Vice President Joe Biden.

When those discussions fell apart the majority leader became a foil for Senate Democrats, who tried to make him the face of GOP obstructionism throughout much of the debate on spending and taxes.

Stepping out in this high profile speech with his own set of prescriptions for how the Republican party should move forward could raise questions about whether Cantor and Boehner are working together.

The Virginia Republican split from Boehner and voted against the final deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

But in advance of the speech Cantor's aides said he briefed House GOP leaders and they support the goals outlined in it.

In a show of unity, Boehner's office circulated a media advisory about Cantor's speech to reporters on Monday.

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