BALTIMORE – House Republicans are invigorated to be back in the majority, but they don’t plan to let voters forget that Democrats are still running the show.
Republicans used their three-day retreat here to map out an aggressive spending and deficit reduction agenda, and began rolling out a new message offensive that involves blaming Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama for standing in their way.
The Member getaway began Thursday and wrapped up Saturday.
Although House Republicans will likely be able to force new spending limits and block other Democratic initiatives over the next two years, “we do not control this federal government. The other party does,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said Friday.
Aides said Cantor’s message, which Republicans began floating during the retreat, is part of the new majority’s attempt to manage expectations for the next two years and build the case for a GOP takeover of the Senate and White House in 2012.
Republicans control the House 242-193; Democrats control the Senate 53-47.
“Gaining a majority in the House does not give us any real proactive capability” to make changes to Democratic policies, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) acknowledged.
It wasn’t just House Republicans who were making the argument that a Republican House does not equal a Republican agenda. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Friday that although he and other governors attending the retreat had urged Members to do what they can to shift power to the states, “we’re not running the government. We’re not going to be able to. But [House Republicans] can try and stop bad things.”
Republicans finished their retreat ready to get back to work after a one-week pause to honor the victims of the Arizona shooting. First up is a return to the health care repeal bill and a proposal to stop the Government Printing Office from having to print a certain number of copies of bills and resolutions, which is part of the party’s week-to-week offensive against what it charges is wasteful government spending.
“We are a renewed and energized Republican majority looking to do some great things this year,” Cantor told reporters.
“It is imperative that we continue the environment to have a productive debate on the issues of the day,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said. “That is important to us, to be able to stand on principle and present our issues.”
The House is expected to finish off its work this week on Thursday with consideration of a resolution by Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) that would instruct committees with jurisdiction to begin working on legislation to replace the health care law. Republicans ran on a campaign to both repeal and replace the health care law.
At the retreat, the new majority also spent much of its time trying to refine plans to cut spending.
“There is a huge feeling of unity, of people being very humbled by the opportunity to be involved in what I consider to be certainly a historical pivotal time in our nation’s history,” Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said. “We can go one way or the other, and we intend to go upwards and increase opportunities for the next generation by getting control of the debt that we have been forcing on the next generation.”
How House Republicans’ spending cuts are met in the Senate and at the White House “are all very, very open questions,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the Chief Deputy Majority Whip.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said that Republicans are well aware that they are now “one-third, where the Democrats control the Senate and the president,” but that House GOP leaders are committed to making their mark in the next two years.
“We want to make sure this country moves forward but moves forward in the right path,” the California Republican said.
Miller said that the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling, expected to be an early test of Speaker John Boehner’s leadership, was a hot topic among Republicans this weekend. There, too, Republicans are blaming the Democrats.
“Nobody wants to do it,” she said. “On the other hand, the debt has been driven up by President Obama and the Democratic majority. These are bills that are going to come due to the American people, and I think, for that particular vote ... we obviously want to be able to use that as leverage to make sure that President Obama and the Democrat majority in the Senate understand that we would never agree to such a thing unless there was a huge amount of spending decrease.”
Miller predicted House Republicans would be “the driver ... on fiscal responsibility” over the next two years.
GOP Members are also eager to increase scrutiny of the Obama administration and sought the counsel of three GOP governors who attended the retreat — Barbour, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’ Rick Perry — about ways in which the administration might be encroaching on their states.
The governors urged Members to find ways to rein in the administration’s regulatory power, arguing that everything from environmental controls to education and health care should be left to the states.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has announced plans to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industrial sites, while Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has said he wants to launch six major investigations during the first three months of the year, including probes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s role in the foreclosure crisis, recalls by the Food and Drug Administration, and the release of classified government cables by WikiLeaks.
Issa plans to name his two remaining subcommittee chairmen Tuesday after announcing three in December. But it may be a few weeks before Issa holds any hearings.
Rep. John Yarmuth, a third-term Member who is planning to return to the Oversight panel this year after a two-year hiatus, acknowledged that Democrats on the panel could have their hands full.
“I certainly look forward to engaging the majority when and if they turn it into an overly partisan committee,” the Kentucky Democrat said.