Boehner: House GOP is 'alternative' to Obama, not 'the opposition'

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CAMBRIDGE, Md. – House Republicans arrived at their retreat here in search of an agenda for 2014, hoping to show voters that they are, in the words of Speaker John Boehner, the “alternative party,” not simply the opposition to President Obama.

In between motivational speeches and ideas lectures at a resort along the banks of the frozen Chesapeake Bay, GOP lawmakers will try to hatch plans on immigration, the debt ceiling and healthcare. 

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But whether they can return to the Capitol with a consensus on those issues is the big question of the three-day conference.

“I think in order to maximize this year, it’s important that we show the American people that we’re not just the opposition party, we’re actually the alternative party,” Boehner (R-Ohio), dressed casually in an orange sweater, told reporters Thursday morning.

“Republicans have to do more to talk about the better solutions that we think we have that will help the American people grow their wages, have opportunities to have a better job and clearly have a better shot at the American dream.”

None of the party discussions are open to the press. GOP leaders briefed a roomful of reporters who were sequestered in a restaurant on the other side of the bay-side Hyatt resort where lawmakers were meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Republicans sent a letter to Obama highlighting four House-passed bills they said could represent areas for potential bipartisan cooperation following his State of the Union address. The dispatch marked an attempt by the GOP to stretch out a hand, as the president makes clear he plans to go around Congress wherever possible to carry out his agenda.

The Speaker launched the conference with an attempt to drive a wedge between Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who on Wednesday rejected the president’s push for Congress to grant him fast-track trade authority.

“Expanded trade means more opportunities for Americans [and] more exports,” Boehner said. “So the question is, is the president going to stand up and lead on this issue? We cannot pass this bill without his help. And if this is one of his own priorities, you would think that he would have the Senate majority leader working with him to pass Trade Promotion Authority in order to expand opportunities for our fellow citizens.”

Noting that Obama has vowed to use his “pen and phone” to get things done, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, “I think the first phone call actually ought to be to Harry Reid to talk about trade. He might want to actually get his own party in line.”

Boehner offered few hints on what he expected to see when the party discusses the fraught issue of immigration later Thursday, saying he didn’t know how his members would respond.