GOP leaves somber meeting united

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – House Republicans concluded a somber three-day private retreat insisting they are united behind their leaders.

“There was a lot of unity in the conference which is what we need, and we can’t afford to be divided in this upcoming time there’s too many important issues,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Hill on Friday.

The tone in Williamsburg was “not as much rah rah, ‘let's go get 'em,’ ” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

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He said GOP leaders “did a good job of trying to keep the focus on how we’re related and the kinds of goals we have. In that respect this was different. It was much more business-like than stuff we've had in the past.”

Republicans began the year divided, with a majority of House Republicans voting against a fiscal-cliff deal and a Hurricane Sandy relief package brought to the floor by their leaders.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were on opposite sides in the fiscal-cliff vote.

A handful of Republicans voted against Boehner later that week in the election for Speaker, underlining conservative unhappiness with their leaders.

Grumblings led to worries that the retreat would be marred by bickering, but a wide range of lawmakers insisted they were focused on looking ahead and said members realized they can’t afford division.

Boehner reiterated his promise he was done with closed-door negotiations with President Obama, which characterized talks on the fiscal cliff.

Boehner “reiterated what he's already said that he's done negotiating with the president, that he's going to work with us and we're going to go through regular order and we're going to send legislation over to [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.],” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) explained to The Hill.

Leaders also signaled they were interested in listening to members by extending “open mic” sessions where members were allowed to voice their feelings. (When conference meets weekly in the Capitol, GOP members are held to two-minute time limits.)

And lawmakers said they support their leaders plan for a three-month increase to the debt ceiling that they say would be tied to the Senate agreeing to write a budget. If the Senate fails to write a budget, they say their bill would prevent senators from being paid.

The idea to use the annual budget process as a string to attach to a debt-limit hike speaks to a central frustration of the House Republican majority — that the Democratic-led Senate has not approved a budget resolution in nearly four years.

It’s something Boehner described Friday as a “a shameful run.”

The debt ceiling hike would not include any additional spending cuts, something Republican members routinely have demanded.

The next test for GOP unity will come next week, when the House votes on the GOP leadership’s plan.

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