Cantor promises spending cuts, but stays mum on whether GOP will wait for Obama to go first

Jon Ward Contributor
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The new House Republican leader said Tuesday that the GOP will be a “cut and grow majority” and will restrain the growth of government by enacting significant spending reductions.

But maybe not until President Obama goes first.

“Once we get to the State of the Union I expect this president to put some action behind the words he’s been about,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Cantor said he was looking to see “some significant spending cuts” proposed by Obama when he speaks on Jan. 25 to a joint session of Congress. He met with reporters in his new offices for a robust 27-minute press availability one day before officially becoming House Majority Leader.

Cantor appeared at first to promise major action in the next three weeks, before Obama’s speech. He laid out a timeline for the rest of January, indicating that the House GOP will move from repealing Obama’s health-care bill – a symbolic act since the Senate will not pass such a bill and Obama would never sign it if they did – to laying out spending cuts to then targeting regulations.

“You’ll see the cut and grow playbook begin to take hold over next three weeks,” he said. “We’re going to be about cutting spending and cutting the job killing regulations that this administration has been about over the last two years.”

However, when pressed numerous times for whether there will be specific spending cuts proposed and regulations put under the axe prior to the State of the Union, Cantor mentioned only an already announced five percent reduction to congressional office budgets that will save $35 million.

Cantor aides, asked several times whether the GOP would lay out more specific cuts than the one cut to congressional offices before SOTU, indicated there might be but would not give a definitive answer.

A Republican Senate staffer pointed out that the five percent cut is not even half of the 15 percent cuts to congressional staff offices recommended by Obama’s own bipartisan fiscal commission.

And the congressional staff cuts – while unquestionably a step by lawmakers to absorb some cutbacks themselves first – are still only a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 billion in spending that the GOP has promised to eliminate.

Such cuts are no doubt coming. Few question the GOP’s seriousness about reaching their $100 billion goal, though many in the Tea Party that delivered them the majority want much deeper cuts.

But Cantor’s comments Tuesday were an indication that the GOP may wait and see what Obama proposes before offering their own recipe for pain, in an attempt to minimize their vulnerability to political attacks.

Such tactics are a double-edged sword. They are often pragmatically effective in shrinking the target for Democratic operatives and advocacy groups. But the grassroots conservative movement – which the GOP must keep engaged and energized if it has any hope of taking back the White House in 2012 – will have little sympathy for anything other than a clear frontal attack on Obama’s policies and on government spending.

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