In part, having Cantor engage with the bipartisan group instead of having the Speaker go it alone might be an important strategy for House Republican leaders to keep their rank and file on board with the final product. The Conference registered its displeasure earlier this year when top staff to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal on the continuing resolution to fund the government. That agreement to cut $38.5 billion was met with broad criticism from conservatives in the House who felt it did not sufficiently cut spending and was crafted without their input. The House had passed a bill that cut $60 billion.
"We've been pretty deliberate putting attention and focus on it so I can go to the Speaker and say, 'Look, here's where we are.' And we'll be able, I believe, to get to this point," Cantor said. "And if the administration and the vice president give a signal that they're willing to continue to talk along those lines, I can see a way that when the Speaker goes and talks to the president, these kinds of things will be on the table."
That teamwork comes five months into the GOP's control of the House under a new roster of leaders who are still finding their way in their new roles. Cantor, long viewed as the attack dog among the leaders, acknowledged House Republicans' growing pains in their effort to change the culture of the chamber.
"We're going to have an open process. We have open rules in the appropriations for the first time since 2007 ... and so a lot of this is taken getting used to," Cantor said, noting that he's gotten good feedback, even from Democrats, that there is a previously missing forum to air opinions on major legislation.
Cantor was a major architect of overhauling the chamber's schedule to include more regular district work periods and in instituting strict time constraints for votes to avoid interruptions of committee business.
There also have been hiccups with manning the House floor, including when House Republicans lost a major political vote on renewing the USA PATRIOT Act and when they decided to pull legislation that would overhaul unemployment insurance because Members were politically sensitive to taking a tough vote after having supported controversial changes to Medicare.
House Republicans have also struggled to gain traction in their public relations campaign on job creation. Over the past several months, they've made several false starts on introducing different jobs initiatives, including Cantor's own "cut and grow" strategy and the more recent unveiling of a jobs package.
Cantor defended those efforts and said GOP lawmakers have been making a consistent case on jobs. However, he acknowledged they haven't been able to capture the media's attention.
"We talk about it every day," Cantor said. "You cover the back and forth of budget fights, CR fights, debt limit fights. Most people are like, 'Good lord, get this economy straight. Grow this economy.' They are looking for optimism."