House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (left), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (right) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan have led a new generation of House conservatives, but their boldness has led to political problems.
And Democrats skipped over Boehner to seize on Cantor as a GOP bogeyman.
Political opponents have cited Cantor’s abrupt departure from debt ceiling negotiations with Vice President Joseph Biden, his insistence on offsetting disaster relief funds and even the motto from his high school yearbook — “I want what I want when I want it” — to highlight what they call the GOP’s intransigence.
The good news for Republicans is that the president’s poll numbers have been falling, too. Historically, as now, Congressional approval is lower than presidential approval. And voters appear to be blaming Obama for the dire economy for the first time. For instance, a Sept. 15-18 Gallup poll found 53 percent of Americans cite Obama for the nation’s economic problems.
Still, Democrats are anxious to utilize Republicans’ support for $5.8 trillion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that are in the Ryan budget in the 2012 elections, among other key votes. That issue was seen as a driving one for the Democrats’ upset win in May’s special election in a New York district traditionally held by Republicans.
“The Young Guns advocated for a plan to end Medicare, convinced the Republican Conference to vote repeatedly to end Medicare and continue to stick to their guns even after Americans have overwhelmingly rejected their proposal,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “It’s what they believe in, and now all Republicans are now co-authors of the Young Guns book.”
In a recent video interview with Politico, Cantor said the political fallout was part of the scope of his proposed reforms. “It’s about change. Real change doesn’t come easy, and we’re about real change,” he said.
McCarthy said he agreed with the public’s low view of Congress. “We agree with them that this place has to change,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been fighting day in and day out. And we ask them to join with us to make the change.”
A wrinkle is the extent to which the public’s discontent with Congress is tied to the GOP’s push for spending cuts versus anger at general partisan gridlock and lack of action on jobs and economic legislation.
A GOP aide close to the Young Guns suggested that high-profile standoffs between parties were a cause of low poll numbers as well. “Control over only one branch of government makes a full conservative vision next to impossible to implement and will require a change in the White House and the Senate,” the aide said. “In the interim, while people don’t expect Republicans and Democrats to agree on everything, they do expect them to find common ground on incremental solutions that start to get people working again and the fiscal House in order.”
Besides politics, however, GOP control of the House has brought with it some growing pains for the group.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.