By Alexander Bolton
President Obama has extended an olive branch to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and invited him to the White House this week to attend a signing ceremony for bipartisan jobs legislation.
Eight months ago, Obama and Cantor clashed sharply during negotiations to raise the debt limit.
At one heated meeting, Obama warned Cantor, "Don't call my bluff" and walked out of the room. Senate Democrats often criticized Cantor during the tense talks for having a thin record of legislative accomplishment.
Now the president is giving Cantor his due. His gesture recognizes Cantor's role in spearheading passage of the bill, which will make it easier for small businesses to raise capital.
The signing ceremony for the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act is scheduled to take place Thursday.
Cantor told The Hill he hopes the president and congressional leaders will work together more frequently over the next several months.
"I hope it's that all of us are looking toward driving toward results and looking towards solutions. We all know there are plenty of differences between the two sides in Washington," he said Sunday.
Some Republican lawmakers had begun to grumble about the lack of bipartisan signing ceremonies, suspecting that it was part of a broader plan to paint Republicans in Congress as obstructionist.
They were annoyed Obama cancelled an October signing ceremony for free trade deals after Republicans ramped up pressure on Democrats to pass it through Congress. The president decided instead to sign the pacts by himself before photographers.
"I think it's strategy. He wants to say Congress can't get anything done," Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told The New York Times.
Some consumers' rights advocates, however, believe Obama has been eager to show voters that he can work with Republicans on bills designed to help the economy.
Barbara Roper, the director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, which opposed the jobs legislation because of concern it will erode investor protections, said Senate Democrats felt "a lot of pressure from the White House to send them a bipartisan JOBS Act."
Cantor has spent months mulling ways for the president and Republicans in Congress to work around staunch disagreements to spur the sluggish economy.
He remembers sitting in a cabinet room meeting with Obama in March of last year when the president told him bluntly there would be areas of disagreement, specifically healthcare and raising taxes.
In recent months, the second-ranking House GOP leader has focused on the areas where policy differences are less pronounced.
"Knowing that we're going to have an election to resolve some of those bigger differences, there are certainly areas where we can work together on and jobs and growth being one of them," he said.
In September, after Obama delivered his jobs agenda to a joint session of Congress, Cantor identified areas of potential common ground in a memo circulated to colleagues.
"I said immediately thereafter that there were some things that the president was talking about that we could support and that we were going to need to try to transcend differences, try and find areas where we can agree, so we can get this economy going again and get people back to work," Cantor said. "The JOBS is exactly the kind of legislation that represents where people can come together.
His memo highlighted proposals then being considered by the House Financial Services Committee to ease regulations for small businesses trying to raise capital.
In November, the House passed several proposals to reduce regulations on startup companies, including a proposal to help them pool funding from small investors, but they stalled in the Senate.
Cantor broke the logjam by bundling the House bills and combining them with legislation sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to exempt small- and mid-sized companies from accounting and corporate governance requirements for up to five years after initial public offerings.
Cantor brought the package to the floor quickly and it passed 390 to 23, generating enough bipartisan momentum to speed it through the upper chamber.
He hatched his legislative strategy after talking with Steve Case, the founder of AOL, whom Obama tapped last year to head the Startup America Partnership.
"Steve noticed that the things we were doing in the House were very much reflecting what he was thinking of doing in the president's jobs council work. I just thought in working with the various members and these bills it would be a good idea to try and drive forward," Cantor said.
"Since the president's jobs council -- meaning the president himself -- endorsed some of these concepts, why couldn't we try working together on these?" he added. "Bipartisanship is where you find things to agree upon and go forward."
Cantor's September memo presented payroll tax relief as another area of potential compromise but negotiations over extending it for another year soured into partisan squabbling.
Congress passed a ten-month extension of the payroll tax rate in February after rancorous talks but Obama opted not to hold a signing ceremony.
The president will sign the STOCK Act, which bars members of Congress using insider information for personal financial gain, Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the White House schedule.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last week the "bipartisan members who played a role in getting these bills to the president's desk will be invited to attend the ceremonies."