House Republicans on retreat focus on picking their fights in election year

A battle-weary conference of House Republicans is focused on picking its fights in the face of an election year.

Members attending the three-day issues retreat described a “serious” more “businesslike” mood following a year of tough legislative fights with the White House and Senate, a year that ended with an internal squabble over a strategy to deal with President Obama’s payroll tax cut.


The perception that House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorRepublicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia Virginia emerging as ground zero in battle for House majority McAuliffe's loss exposes deepening Democratic rift MORE (R-Va.) were divided created concerns for the rank and file going into the new year.

“The meat is: Here are the issues we have to get on the same page here. We can’t have what happened in December,” one lawmaker told reporters.

Cantor disputed reports of discord among the GOP leadership. He led his remarks at a press conference on Friday contending that they were “united as a conference to fight for the hard-working taxpayers of this country.”

Later he added, during a scrum with reporters, “I don’t think there’s any question that we are united, we are united in the cause to further — and that cause is to make sure we get the economy going again, get small businesses growing again.”

The perceived disunity among those at the top capped a rough year of legislative ups and downs for the House GOP’s first year of majority status, following four years of Democratic control.

The difference in tone at retreats from the start of 2011 to this weekend demonstrated the year of growth experienced by the 87 new members.

Last year, House GOP lawmakers were in a boisterous mood at the retreat, fresh off their exciting electoral success, having reclaimed the majority in the House.

This year, following the legislative fights over spending and deficit reduction with a Democratic-controlled Senate, the White House and amongst themselves, the tone of the retreat is more tempered, according to participants.

“When you come here not knowing anything, and the first thing you are doing is a conference like this, but they’ve been through it now a year, some big battles and those were some major battles this last year that we went through so, I think everyone is much more serious,” veteran Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) told reporters.

Though they are more realistic in their expectations of what can be accomplished with a Democratic controlled Senate and White House, the GOP conference seemed ready to work together to pick the battles for 2012, attendees said.

Over the first two days of info sessions on topics such as polling numbers, messaging and the legislative battles to come, participants said that though breakout session leaders mentioned Obama’s policies, members wanted to focus on how the House GOP would address the issues of debt and budget in an unified manner.

Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters that his colleagues offered bold ideas to include in the yet-to-be-written budget blueprint.

Ryan said that House Republicans will produce a budget this year.

Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE encouraged the use of stringent oversight of the president’s policies to shine a light on the administration’s actions in its first term.

According to several participants, the current GOP presidential nomination fight was not discussed over the course of the first two days of the retreat.

In fact, on Thursday evening, as CNN was airing the GOP presidential debate from South Carolina, House lawmakers were “socializing” in the lobby of the Baltimore Marriott hotel instead of watching the debate, an attendee revealed.

The source said that House members, who must run for reelection every two years, were concerned with winning their own campaigns in November and retaining majority control of the House.

Many of the sessions were geared towards team building and leadership. Popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was scheduled as the keynote speaker on Friday night.