In Push to Fight Opioid Epidemic, McCarthy Should Remember Cantor’s ‘Make Life Work’ Disaster

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently laid out his plans for the House "to address the nationwide opioid epidemic." The majority leader is to be commended for announcing in a transparent and articulate manner his blueprint for this problem. This effort at dialogue and the openness it demonstrates is welcome and courageous. While the majority leader’s goals for addressing opioid issue are laudable, it is vital that McCarthy not repeat former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) disastrous and constitutionally dubious "Make Life Work" initiative in the process. That effort pushed progressive legislative proposals in an effort to soften the image of Republicans in the House. The result was that it blurred the distinction between Republicans and Democrats to the frustration of the former and the delight of the latter. McCarthy should take care not to head down the same path with his endeavor.

Cantor launched his ill-fated blueprint in February 2013 with a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. There were warning signs from the start that the foundations of his plan weren’t conservative. He explained that "the House majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families. And to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits." This assertion ignores the fact that the Constitution doesn’t envision a federal government that would be involved in creating these conditions. He then went on to contradict himself by stating that he would move to keep Washington from being involved in these areas. The contradiction was a natural corollary of his plan. It isn’t possible to legislate in a sort of conservative way but not really, and at the same time get some Democratic votes in the House and make the media happy. It doesn’t work that way in practice on Capitol Hill.

The contradictions continued when Cantor said that under his leadership, the House would "advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family and accountability in government." There is no conservative way to be involved in areas that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves to the states. That can’t be triangulated without losing ideological credibility — which is what quickly happened.