Image: Eric Cantor
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images file
 U.S. House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill January 28, 2009 in Washington.
updated 6/12/2009 3:58:44 PM ET 2009-06-12T19:58:44

The No. 2 Republican in the House on Thursday compared President Barack Obama's plans for the auto industry to the policies of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying the White House has stripped credit holders of rights and given them to Democratic allies.

"They said, 'Set aside the rule of law, let's strip secured creditors, bondholders, of their rights. Take them away outside of the bankruptcy process and give them to the political cronies and the auto workers' unions," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It's almost like looking at Putin's Russia," added Cantor, the GOP's House whip. "You want to reward your political friends at the expense of the certainty of law?"

The Obama administration this week set bonus limits on companies that have received billions of dollars in federal bailout money and appointed a "special master" with power to reject pay plans he deems excessive.

Conservatives eagerly compare such government "meddling" and Obama's governing style to leaders half a world away.

An 'intimidated' media
"Like Obama, Putin has a fawning media that is intimidated by an uncertain marketplace and looking for any help to stay afloat," John Feehery, a conservative consultant and veteran House Republican spokesman, wrote Wednesday on his blog.

In a wide-ranging interview, Cantor said that Obama's economic rescue plans and Democrats' sweeping overhaul of the health care system will sour with recession-weary voters before the 2010 midterm elections. He predicted Republicans will retake control of the House.

While acknowledging that Democrats may well have the votes to push Obama's health plan through Congress with few or no Republican votes, "it will be at a huge political cost," Cantor said.

"The Democratic agenda is unraveling," he said, elucidating what's become the Republicans' main talking point in recent weeks. "My sense is by November of 2010, (there will be) an electorate that really wants to see a check and a balance on unfettered power."

Video: Cantor previews meeting with Obama Democrats enjoy a 256-178 majority in the House, with one vacancy. Republicans would have to have a net gain of 40 seats in November 2010 to reclaim a majority. Cantor said they would begin by looking at the 49 districts that voted for Republican John McCain for president last year but are represented by Democrats.

Titanic struggle
Republicans are in a titanic struggle over who speaks for the GOP and what the party stands for, conservative principles alone or a "big tent" approach that can accommodate centrist members in the name of growth. Focusing on conservative principles cost the GOP a Senate seat when Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party, putting Obama's party in reach of a crucial 60-seat Senate majority.

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The most visible Republicans at present have been deeply unpopular outside the GOP's conservative base: former Vice President Dick Cheney, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"The issue for us is rebuilding a governing majority that is comfortable with differences that can transcend the divisiveness and unify behind the principles that we know our party has succeeded on," namely limited government and individual rights, Cantor said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, characterized Cantor's comments as evidence that Republicans lack ideas and leadership.

"It's no wonder that recent polling shows that one-third of Republicans hold an unfavorable view of their own party. Republicans should stop the name-calling, roll up their sleeves and start working with the president and congressional Democrats to turn the economy around," Van Hollen said in a statement.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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