By Erik Wasson - 03/28/13 03:08 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed his conference's success against President Obama in a memo issued to Republicans on Thursday.
Boehner said the House GOP's “new tactical plan” to fight Obama and Democrats on spending had largely succeeded, and sought input from his rank-and-file on where to go from here.
“Republicans may be the minority party in Washington — but because we forged a plan together and have stuck to it, our actions as a team over the past couple of months have made a difference for all Americans,” Boehner wrote.
“From #NoBudgetNoPay to Leader Cantor’s #MakingLifeWork initiative to last week’s passage of our Path to Prosperity budget, we’ve used our limited power in Washington to maximum effect, and shown the Democratic majority what leadership looks like,” Boehner wrote.
Republicans entered 2013 on shaky ground after a disappointing election that saw their party lose the White House and seats in both chambers of Congress. Several Republicans voted against Boehner for Speaker, and the party was seen as losing the "fiscal cliff" battle that ended with Obama winning higher tax rates on wealthier households.
House Republicans seemed to regain their political bearings in the fight over the sequester. While Boehner and other Republicans criticized the automatic spending cuts, they decided to hold the line on replacing them with anything other than spending cuts.
In the face of a White House public relations offensive that warned of the sequester's economic ills, Boehner and the GOP refused to give ground on Obama's demand for new taxes. And the White House public relations push seemed to backfire as questions were raised about whether some spending cuts were political, such as the canceling of White House tours.
In his memo, Boehner lauded his conference for putting the infighting of 2012 behind it and sticking to a strategy hatched at its Williamsburg retreat to pass a budget that balances in 10 years and to avoid a government shutdown. The conference also decided to not allow new taxes to pay for turning off this year's $85 billion in sequestration cuts.
“In January at our retreat in Williamsburg, VA, House Republicans came together as a team. We listened to each other, and adopted a new strategy for the coming year that has put Republicans on offense and Democrats on defense,” he reminds the conference.
“To support our strategy, we forged a new tactical plan that focused on using our limited leverage to maximum effect in support of the reforms needed to support economic growth and job creation for all Americans,” Boehner writes.
In a possibly telling sign for the big fiscal fights to come, Boehner reminds the conference that the plan is centered around allowing sequestration to go into effect, not on threatening to prevent a hike to the nation’s $16 trillion debt ceiling. That ceiling will likely have to be raised by August.
“We made the decision to center the spending debate on sequestration rather than on the debt ceiling or legislation to keep the government running, denying the president the ability to hide behind straw men in his reluctance to control spending,” Boehner writes.
Boehner did suggest Republicans would be willing to turn off future years of sequester cuts, but only in a deal that would replace those cuts with other, targeted, spending cuts. Obama is pressing for a package that would also include higher taxes.
"The spending cuts implemented under sequestration still need to be replaced with better spending cuts that help move us to our goal of a balanced budget within the next decade," Boehner writes.
The Speaker urges Republicans to come back to Washington the week of April 8 prepared to discuss the next steps going forward.
The Boehner memo focuses on fiscal and economic policy while remaining silent on other pressing issues, including immigration and gun control.
Although the House and Senate have both passed wildly divergent budgets for the first time in four years, no decisions have been made on whether to try to reconcile them. The prospects of a grand bargain with Obama also appear dim given differences over taxes.
Boehner told his conference that they must look at future actions through the prism of economic growth.
“Republicans are the party of economic growth, and growth is what matters most to American families and small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet,” the Speaker writes.
Boehner also touts as a success the fact that the Senate approved an amendment to the Senate budget supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Boehner said the party must find a way to deal with high unemployment and overall mounting debt, while replacing the across-the-board sequestration cuts with more targeted reductions.
The Speaker asserts that "immediate action to address the debt" will boost growth, an economic assertion disputed by Democrats who say sudden government spending cuts lower demand and hurt growth.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office said the majority's only success so far has been in passing gimmicks and allowing the sequester to harm the economy.
“Once again, the Republican Majority is governing by sound bite. If they don’t have the Congress lurching from manufactured crisis to crisis, then they’re passing gimmicks that do nothing to address the urgent priorities of the American people," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.
“Nearly four months into this session, House Republicans have not brought forward a single proposal to address the harmful cuts in the sequester while blocking a Democratic proposal four times,” he added. “What we need are solutions to grow the economy not sequesters and messaging memos.”
—This story was last updated at 12:55 p.m.