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House Republicans gather today in Baltimore to plot the path forward for their hard-fought new majority under the inevitable shadow of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., which essentially put the GOP agenda on hold this week.
But Members insist they don’t plan to forestall their agenda for long and see no reason to alter their strategy for implementing it, even if they get a later start than they hoped.
“Clearly our colleagues and those that have fallen will continue to be in our thoughts and obviously in our prayers,” said Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), whose staff organized the three-day retreat that begins today. “But the business of the people will go forward.”
The Republican retreat, which is sponsored by the Congressional Institute, will be chock full of GOP heavy hitters, many of whom are stars of the conservative right. Conservative commentator Dennis Prager will keynote today’s dinner, while columnist George Will be Friday’s dinner keynote. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who engineered the 1994 Republican revolution, and former Sen. Phil Gramm (Texas) will speak to Members at a Friday breakfast.
Also Friday, conservative economists Larry Kudlow and Arthur Laffer, the economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan for whom the “Laffer curve” is named, will lead a session on creating jobs and growing the economy.
And GOP Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Rick Perry of Texas will brief Republican lawmakers on innovative policies that they are pursuing in the states.
“The agenda’s very full,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, “so there’s no time to sightsee or anything like that.”
Upton said he would lead a breakout session Friday on energy with Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), as well as a Saturday session on health care with Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
On Saturday, former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt will lead a health care discussion before Members break to return to their districts for the rest of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Republican leaders are expected to hold a vote next week on a health care repeal bill. The vote was originally scheduled for this week, but it was postponed out of respect to the victims of the Arizona attack.
The upcoming repeal vote is expected to be an early test of whether the tone of debate in the House will be different post-shooting. But Republicans so far have given no indication that they plan to temper their opposition to the law, which National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions described Wednesday as a “huge job-killer.”