BALTIMORE – Republicans, eager to get back to the business of being the majority in the House, have scheduled a long-awaited vote for next week to repeal President Obama’s health care reform law. They will do it the short holiday work week before the president's State of the Union address. The House will debate the repeal on Tuesday and vote on Wednesday, according to the leadership sources. In a concerted effort to move beyond the emotional, grief-stricken period following the Arizona massacre, Republicans are using the issues retreat this weekend to shift focus.
After a visit to the fort that provided the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner, House Republicans this afternoon kicked off their annual policy retreat devoted to honing their legislative strategy and building GOP conference cohesion. Members will also hear from several potential 2012 presidential candidates.
After a week dominated by news of the tragic shooting involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the GOP retreat is a certain return to the political and policy debates of the moment. The three-day event provides Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his conference a chance to refocus and to calibrate their next legislative moves on the economy, health care, and other areas as the new party in power in the House.
As one example, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced today that House Republicans plan to proceed with a vote next week on their bill to repeal President Obama’s health care law -- following the postponement of a planned vote this week in the aftermath of the shootings.
“As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week,” said Boehner spokesman Brad Dayspring said. He added, “It is our expectation that the debate will continue to focus on those substantive policy differences surrounding the new law.”
As Republicans go about their planning and strategizing at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel through Saturday, a significant police presence in the hotel and the surrounding streets serves as a clear reminder of the tragic events in Tucson. “A lot of us are still trying to deal with this week,” acknowledged Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the early arrivals.
Still, the turnout is anticipated to be impressive. More than 200 House Republicans have registered for this year’s edition of the “Congress of Tomorrow Issues Conference,” which has been an annual event sponsored by the Alexandria, Va.,-based Congressional Institute. House Democrats have a similar retreat set for the weekend of January 21.
The attendees seem to be arriving with a determination to concentrate on the work ahead, even if some of them are first taking a field trip this afternoon to the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. That was the fort that defended Baltimore against the British invasion during the War of 1812, inspiring the words that have become the national anthem.
But in closed-door workshops and seminars, and during lunches and dinners, the lawmakers are expected to focus heavily on the upcoming health care law repeal vote and the GOP’s follow-up strategy, given Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s promise not to take up the bill. The Republicans are also expected to discuss what to do when the current continuing resolution, which is funding the government, expires on March 4.
With the GOP leadership looking to cut roughly $60 billion from the fiscal year 2011 budget, one option is to include rescissions in another CR, but discussions on how to proceed and where to cut are ongoing.
The participants will also hold closed-door talks about the nation’s long-term deficits and whether to raise the debt ceiling as the economy continues to struggle to recover and unemployment remains high.
Those discussions could be feisty. More than 80 of the members, who are mostly arriving here by bus from Capitol Hill, are newly elected and are attending their first such party huddle. Many of them campaigned on promises to change how Washington works. For Boehner, an early test may be how he brings these members in line to do something he has acknowledged is likely necessary – raising the federal debt ceiling to allow the government to function on a line of credit.
The conference will include Friday appearances by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Rick Perry of Texas, and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Barbour and Gingrich as considered potential presidential candidates. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and columnist George Will are scheduled to come as well.
Radio host Dennis Prager will speak at tonight’s opening dinner. Political pollster Frank Luntz will make a guest appearance, as he did at last year's event.
But unlike last year’s edition of the annual retreat, House Republicans have not announced President Obama as among the expected guests. Last year, Obama's televised debate with the Republicans stole the show.
Humberto Sanchez and Major Garrett