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NY Times: Cantor Changing 'Uncompromising Conservatism to Something Kinder and Gentler'

New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman documented the failure of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to remake the GOP's "uncompromising conservatism to something kinder and gentler" in "House Majority Leader’s Quest to Soften G.O.P.’s Image Hits a Wall Within," in a slanted story that's being passed off as straight news. Weisman emotionally warned: "But these days, those who linger in the middle of the road end up flattened."

"A kinder, gentler nation" is of course the phrase George H.W. Bush used in his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1988, apparently to distance himself from the more conservative Ronald Reagan.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, has been trying for months to remake the image of the Republican Party, from one of uncompromising conservatism to something kinder and gentler.

It isn’t working so well.

On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda -- a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions -- in the face of a conservative revolt. Last month, legislation to streamline worker retraining programs barely squeaked through. In May, Republican leaders will try again with legislation, pitched as family-friendly, to allow employers to offer comp time or “flex time” instead of overtime. But it has little prospect for Senate passage.

(Two weeks ago, Weisman saw "egg on the face" of conservatives in the face of early gains for gun control in Congress. How did that work out?)

So it has gone. Items that Mr. Cantor had hoped would change the Republican Party’s look, if not its priorities, have been ignored, have been greeted with yawns or have only worsened Republican divisions.

“We need to look at these issues through a more human lens and realize government has a role here, especially on some of these pocketbook issues,” said Representative Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who expressed frustration with the lock-step opposition of the House’s fiercest conservatives. “Have we been successful? No. We’re still trying to find our way.”

The debacle on Wednesday was the worst moment yet. The Helping Sick Americans Now Act sounded like solid middle ground -- a measure to actually expand the part of President Obama’s health care law that created a federal “high-risk pool” in which people with pre-existing conditions could band together to buy subsidized insurance coverage. The provision was to be paid for by siphoning money from another part of Mr. Obama’s health care law, the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

But these days, those who linger in the middle of the road end up flattened. The White House issued a stern veto threat to keep the money in the fund, which chased away Democratic votes from the Helping Sick Americans Now Act. The Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, warned that Republicans who voted in favor of the act would have their scorecards marked down for supporting part of the health care law. L. Brent Bozell III, a conservative activist, labeled the bill “Cantorcare” -- and not as a compliment.

Weisman approvingly cited a Cantor speech in which he downplayed the importance of fiscal discipline, a cornerstone of conservatism.

When Mr. Cantor delivered a “Making Life Work” speech at the American Enterprise Institute in February, his message to his party was urgent and well received. The party, he said, needs to get beyond its single-minded, green-eyeshaded message of fiscal austerity and look to the problems of ordinary struggling Americans. Education, work-force training, health care and medical research have to augment the central issue of fiscal discipline and balanced budgets, he said.

Still more claims of Republican "austerity" were made byWeisman – a strange word choice in an era of $3.8 trillion federal budgets.

....Others said a large core of the House Republican conference had simply proved unwilling to move beyond the austerity message.

The Republicans’ embrace of such austerity was evident as the House Ways and Means Committee was drafting a bill on Wednesday to ensure that the federal government’s creditors would be the first paid with incoming tax revenues, should Congress refuse this summer to raise the government’s borrowing limit.