CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- House Republican leadership challenged its members Thursday morning to spend their annual retreat producing solutions to some of the major problems facing American families, encouraging a bottom-up approach that gives a voice to rank-and-file lawmakers, according to a source in attendance.
In a two-hour morning session, Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a presentation on the 2014 agenda. But rather than dictate specific policies solutions for the House to pursue, Cantor identified four areas where Americans are hurting — and encouraged members to think about how best to address them.
As images of American families danced across the background, Cantor worked through slides that identified four topics Republicans should address in 2014: "Obamacare," "Jobs and Economic Growth," "Middle Class Squeeze," and "Opportunity."
On the issue of health care, Cantor promised his colleagues, "We will rally around an Obamacare alternative, and we will pass it on the floor this year." That earned the majority leader a rousing round of applause, although Cantor did not specify the scope of the GOP's health care solution. (A four-hour session dedicated to health care policy is planned for Thursday afternoon.)
Addressing jobs and the economy, Cantor emphasized the correlation between unemployment and college education. He encouraged members to think about solutions for job training programs and ways to lift regulatory restrictions in industries that are currently reluctant to hire new workers.
The emphasis was similar when discussing ideas to help the middle class. Cantor focused on easing regulations to lower costs for working Americans, 76 percent of whom he said are living "paycheck-to-paycheck." The combination of higher cost of living and lower incomes is pushing more and more Americans out of the middle class, Cantor said.
All three discussions bled into a broader conversation about creating opportunity. Aside from addressing health care costs and industry-specific regulations, Cantor encouraged Republicans to keep education at the forefront of their agenda. He said the GOP can make inroads with lower-income and minority voters by stressing education as an avenue to the middle class, specifically mentioning charter schools and college affordability as arguments the GOP should win.
The overarching theme for Cantor's presentation was "An America That Works." While upbeat in tone, he emphasized how many Americans no longer feel that their children will have greater opportunity than they did. Cantor even mentioned Obama's line from this week's State of the Union Address — about how hard work can get anyone ahead — and said that credo had been effectively stolen from Republicans because they haven't been sufficiently focused on providing Americans such opportunity.
Cantor closed by citing Ronald Reagan's philosophy about the government not being the answer to Americans' problems, and challenged Republicans to create a government "that creates productivity and opportunity...one that's by your side, not riding your back."
The session lasted two hours. Cantor's presentation lasted 40 minutes, and afterword staffers passed out worksheets titled "An America That Works." The forms listed those problems and solutions discussed in Cantor's presentation, and included blank lines for members to fill in their own ideas.