Ambitious GOP leader Cantor casts vision past debt

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WASHINGTON -- With House Republicans gathered behind closed doors at a resort in Williamsburg, Va., this month, Rep. Eric Cantor hushed the crowd with a long slide presentation on the looming prospects of government default.

The federal debt was climbing quickly. The Treasury Department was using "extraordinary measures" to keep paying the nation's debts, even if, technically, the government had blown past its borrowing limit. President Barack Obama, he said, would set the day the government would go into default, and Republicans balking at raising the debt limit had no real idea when that day would be. The Republican Party was not in control of the situation.

For Mr. Cantor, the majority leader, the goals during the ensuing week -- from Williamsburg to the House vote last Wednesday to suspend the debt limit until May -- were to make sure the government did not default on its debt in the coming weeks and to get House Republicans beyond an endless, and politically fruitless, discussion about debt, deficits and green-eyeshaded austerity.

After lying low for several months, Mr. Cantor is reasserting his presence in the Capitol, even as House Speaker John Boehner continues his struggles to maintain Republican unity. In the coming weeks, the majority leader plans to lay out a second, softer track for his party beyond the constant cycle of budget showdowns and deficit talks.

Notably, that track that will include a new push for private-school vouchers for underprivileged children, health care options beyond the old fight over the president's health care law, new workforce training initiatives and a renewed push for science, technology and engineering visas for would-be immigrants.

After successfully engineering the latest debt ceiling vote last week, Mr. Cantor flew to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he road-tested those themes as the lone House Republican leader rubbing elbows with the international elite.

He is expected to lay out his domestic vision Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right research group.

His latest moves follow two episodes this month that attracted wide notice and new questions about Republican unity. He publicly broke with the speaker early this month over the deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, voting against the agreement even as Mr. Boehner voted for it. Mr. Cantor then deftly maneuvered to secure passage of a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief package that Mr. Boehner had initially been cool to, bowing to pressure from financial donors in New York and engineering a complex process that satisfied both Northeastern Republicans and fiscal conservatives.

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