WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The text of his speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below:
Thank you for having me here. It is an honor to speak before CPAC. I want to start by sharing a story of opportunity with you.
Last Friday, I was in New Orleans. I went looking for ways to improve education for the children born into a life of poverty and dependency.
While there, I met a young mom named Essence Jackson. Last year, her daughter, Ma’loni, attended kindergarten at a public school. Midway through the year, Ma’loni’s teacher pulled Essence aside and told her that her daughter couldn’t get what she needed at school, that was Ma’loni was too bright, and needed more opportunity to thrive.
The teacher told Essence to apply for the Louisiana Scholarship Program which would ensure that Ma’loni could get a way out of the failing school she attended and an opportunity to attend a school of her choice. One that could offer her a real avenue to advancement and a quality education.
Ma’loni now attends first grade at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Elementary School as a participant of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. And although there is much controversy surrounding the scholarship program, Essence is a believer. She told me she would do anything to make sure Ma’loni can stay at Our Lady of Succor.
You see, Essence is putting herself through college right now. And she told me that she’d even quit school and try and find 3 part time jobs to keep Ma’loni enrolled at that elementary school. It makes that much of a difference.
Caring teachers, motivated administrators, and above all – a safe environment to learn. Essence is praying that the Louisiana Supreme Court throws out the case challenging the scholarship program.
Essence is fighting. She is willing to work even harder for her daughter. We've got to fight too. We must be prepared to work even harder. For the sake of our children and grandchildren.
Families like the Jacksons need strength. They need a voice. You all in this room give them that strength. You give them that voice. Now more than ever, your voice is critical. Now more than ever, we must turn our words into action.
America faces serious challenges. Our debt is exploding. The very economic foundation of our nation is at risk. Washington is addicted to spending. This addiction threatens future generations. More taxes, and more spending, mean more government control.
Families having to give more and more money to the federal government means less freedom, plain and simple.
Too many Americans are on welfare. Too many Americans are dependent on government-sponsored health care. Too many Americans give up time with their kids in order to hold down two jobs, just to pay the bills. For too many Americans, it’s just not working.
Too many Moms and Dads have had to come home, walk into the kitchen and deliver the news that they no longer had a job. The bills stack up and their hopes diminish. Often they must tear their kids from their friends, their schools and their neighborhoods in order to move just to find some work.
We’ve got to help these families. And the way to do that is not by more government. The way to do it is with policies rooted in the conservative principles of limited government and more freedom.
Let’s face it, the opposition is organized and they have very different ideas on how to help these families and how to affect the future of our country. President Obama and his allies believe the best solution to our ills is cradle-to-grave government support. But we know our freedom is God-given and should never be taken away.
More freedom produces better outcomes. That’s why it’s always best to leave decision-making to the moms and dads and the families of America and not the government.
All too often, Washington measures results in dollars spent and government workers hired. And when that doesn’t work, the answer is - always more government.
Nobody knows this better than you. The American Conservative Union has been fighting for freedom for almost 50 years.
In the House of Representatives, the fight continues. The Democratic Senate hasn’t passed a budget in four years. Next week, the House will pass one that balances in ten. Our budget will grow the economy. Their budget will raise taxes – by a trillion dollars. And we don’t know what’s in the President’s budget because it’s late – again.
It’s hard to get anything done in Washington when common ground is held hostage by tax hikes, and if the other side doesn’t show up to work.
Despite these odds, I have hope. I look around this room, and that hope grows. We can pursue an agenda that is founded on the values we share and that applies conservative solutions to the challenges faced by working families. And yes, part of that agenda must include school choice. This is an idea whose day has finally come.
In 1965, the newly founded ACU demanded that Lyndon Johnson include an education tax credit plan in place of his education subsidy plan. Conservatives knew that federal subsidies would not mean better education for our kids. We knew then, as we know now, that more parental control over education dollars is the answer.
There is no longer a debate about whether federal education policy is working. More money goes in, and the results stay the same. It’s not fair to taxpayers, it’s not fair to parents, and most importantly, it’s not fair to the kids.
Today, too many of the most vulnerable children in our country are stuck in schools that don’t work. The schools are too dangerous, they don’t teach to grade level, and they certainly are not preparing our kids for college or a better future.
Too many of these kids end up unemployed, in a cycle of dependency, or worse, a life of crime. Yes, that costs us as a society – but worse, it cost these children their future. We’re losing them. It’s a tragedy. We have got to fix this. I told you earlier about Essence and Ma’loni in New Orleans. I’d also like to tell you about Joseph and Rashawn here in Washington.
I spent a couple days with Joseph Kelley and his son Rashawn recently. Joseph is courageous single Dad who is raising four kids. He simply wants Rashawn and his daughters to have it better than he did. His son Rashawn attended a failing elementary school, one that eight DC police officers patrol every day.
Despite hard work, Rashawn was being held back. By fifth grade he was three years behind on most subjects. Joseph heard of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and dedicated himself to making sure Rashawn and his three sisters were accepted into the program. All he wanted for them was access to a school that would put them on a path to graduation, and then college.
Within two years at a private school, Rashawn caught up to his classmates, and is now a student at the University of the District of Columbia. His three sisters are now attending the Preparatory School of D.C., and are on a similar path.
So I've got to ask, who would want to deny Rashawn and Ma’loni these opportunities?
Well, for four years, President Obama has sought to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And for four years, Republicans, led by my friend Speaker John Boehner have saved that program from extinction.
We have got to save this program. And we must also follow the lead of Governor Jindal in Louisiana and finally commit to going all in on education reform.
Imagine if we were to try and move in this direction with federal funding. Allow the money we currently spend to actually follow individual children. Students, including those in poverty or with special needs, could access the best available school.
And their options ought to include not just public or private schools, but also charter schools. A competitive environment, where schools compete for students rather than the other way around, gives every child an equal chance at a greater destiny.
No parent or child should be forced to wait for failing school systems to get their acts together.
One of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable. This gives us the best chance of protecting tomorrow for a generation of smart and capable young people. In short, school choice is the answer. It puts our conservative values to work and provides opportunity for our kids.
President Obama and the Democrats must see the light. We can find common ground. But as Ronald Reagan said, if they don’t see the light, we’ll make them feel the heat.
The fight for the future of our country is before us. We fight for our kids. We fight so our kids go to a good school. We fight so our kids have good health care. We fight so our kids aren’t born facing a mountain of debt.
We fight so parents can get a job, make an honest living, and provide for their family. And we fight to make sure government doesn’t tax away their paychecks, or make freedom and opportunity harder to come by.
Conservatives fight for freedom. And that is always a fight worth pursuing.
We must pursue this fight together. Where we have differences, we should air them. But where we are bound together with a single purpose, we must put all of our energy behind these efforts. We can bring about the change we’ve been seeking for decades.
When conservatives are united, our ideas win. Conservative ideas win, because conservative ideas work.
Stand with House Republicans. Work with us. Let’s fight for a better future for kids like Rashawn and Ma'loni. Let us not take no for an answer.