BALTIMORE — House Republicans wrapped up their retreat here Saturday by vowing to avoid the infighting that often derailed their messaging in 2011 and to draw stark contrasts between themselves and Democrats.
Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) had hoped the Charm City confab would help heal the wounds from December’s payroll tax cut fight while putting their Conference on a unified path going into the 2012 elections.
On Saturday at least, Republicans sang from the same page.
“This is the most focused and serious-minded retreat I can remember being part of,” Boehner told his colleagues during a final session Saturday morning, according to a Republican in attendance.
“2012 will be a referendum on the president’s failed policies, and we need to use every tool at our disposal this year to drive that referendum,” he added.
Rank-and-file Members agreed, emerging from the three-day retreat in an upbeat mood.
“Look, we’re a group of individuals. ... That’s why the American people are so excited about this freshman class,” Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho) said, explaining that despite differences of opinions, “we are definitely united.” He said Republicans will draw distinctions between themselves and President Barack Obama and Democrats, particularly in the Senate.
Rep. Steve Scalise said leaders are open about where they can improve.
“I think they’ve shown they’re open to listening and getting better. Where there have been problems, they’ve been willing to acknowledge that,” the Louisiana Republican said. “I think that’s a positive sign that our leadership is open to admit where they can do better, and they’re working to keep getting better.”
Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) said that although Republicans may not be able to single-handedly enact big-ticket legislation, “the least we can do if we don’t like the direction the president is taking the country — which we don’t — is show the country what we would do, how we think we should fix these problems.”
To that end, leaders used the retreat to sketch an agenda that they hope will provide a platform for making a distinction between Republicans and Democrats.
For instance, on Friday, Cantor said Republicans will pursue tax and budget reforms as well as highway and energy legislation during 2012, and he indicated they could even wade back into the fight over the Affordable Care Act.
“I could also see us trying to make the case again for the repeal of Obamacare. Most of the people are with us in the country. And you’re going to have the external events of oral arguments in the Supreme Court, you’re going to have at some point the disposition of that case,” he said.