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GOP Retreat Wraps; Priebus Goes to Work

Bill Clark/Roll Call
House Majority Whip Eric Cantor said that the GOP is poised to do great things, but cautioned that the party must be realistic in its goals because it still does not control the Senate or White House.

BALTIMORE House Republicans on Saturday wrapped up their three-day issue retreat that focused heavily on economic and spending issues and the need to avoid promises the party cannot keep.

Republicans closed out their meeting with a speech from newly-elected Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. According to attendees, Priebus who was introduced by fellow Wisconsinite and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan was greeted with a standing ovation.

Priebus, who is less than 24 hours removed from being elected chairman, kept his remarks brief and focused on his campaign pledge to be "a workhorse, not a show horse" and to concentrate on digging the RNC out of its financial troubles, a Republican said.

According to a report in Politico, Priebus also told lawmakers that he plans to clean house within the RNC's convention planning team. He said he would go to Tampa, Fla., next week to seek the resignations from members of the Committee on Arrangements. Tampa is the site of the 2012 GOP Convention, and planning is already well underway.

The news from Priebus signaled a fresh start after the two-year tenure of outgoing RNC Chairman Michael Steele, whose tenure had been marred by controversy and unwanted headlines.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) Friday afternoon said the retreat demonstrated that "we are a renewed and energized Republican Party looking to do some great things," a sentiment most other Members echoed.

Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.) said the meeting was a positive way to start the new session and said Republicans understand that "gaining a majority in the House does not give us any real proactive capability" to undo Obama administration policies.

Likewise, Cantor warned that while Republicans could use the House to curb some Democratic policies, wholesale change isn't in the cards at this point. "We do not control this federal government. The other party does," he warned.

GOP aides acknowledged that one of the key themes leadership stressed over the weekend is that while the House may be in their hands, they remain a minority party, with Democrats still in control of the Senate and White House.

The other major theme coming out of the retreat was the need to focus on economic and spending issues. The three-day meeting included no discussions on traditionally hot-button issues like immigration, abortion or other social issues.

And while conservatives like Franks said they remain committed to those issues, they recognize that in the short term "the reality is the economic circumstance has reached an urgent level in this country."

Freshman Rep. Chip Cravaak (Minn.), who said he "learned a lot" during the three days, agreed, arguing that, "we have a lot of challenges ahead of us as Americans ... jobs [and] the economy are things that are around all of our necks."

Meanwhile, in remarks at the retreat on Saturday, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) waded into the debate over the looming debt-limit increase battle and warned that any increase must be tied to cost-cutting measures.

"President Obama and Congressional Democrats have been on a job-destroying spending spree that has left us with nothing but historic unemployment and the most debt in U.S. history. If they want us to help pay their bills, they are going to have to start cutting up their credit cards," he said, according to excerpts released by his office.

"'Cutting up the credit cards' means cutting spending and implementing spending reforms to ensure we keep on cutting. We know the American people will settle for nothing less."

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