Cole, who recently urged Republicans to cave in the fiscal cliff talks over extending the Bush-era tax rates, was adamant he would not vote for a “clean” debt ceiling increase, saying it could not pass the House.
“We’re discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March,” Ryan said. “What we want to achieve at the end of the day is a two-way discussion between Democrats and Republicans and, out of that, hopefully some progress being made about getting the deficit and debt under control.”
In the fiscal cliff talks, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio was repeatedly undercut by his failure to control his own conference, culminating in a failed coup attempt by a small band of disgruntled conservatives.
But at the retreat, there were signs that the right was being brought into the fold, even if only temporarily. Members who voted against Boehner participated vigorously in the discussion about strategy on the debt ceiling, and some expressed their approval for how leadership was soliciting input on the issue.
And Ryan is also leading what Republicans are calling a “working group” of five influential conservative members: Reps. Tom Price of Georgia, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
The group worked ahead of the retreat to formulate ideas about how to approach the debt ceiling and other upcoming spending battles, some of which Ryan presented Thursday at their closed-door meeting.
Ryan’s group puts some of the most powerful members of the conference’s right flank together. Some in the group, Price in particular, have at times been viewed as a threat to Boehner.
Aides to the Ohio Republican said the speaker didn’t establish the group. But Cole said the fact that Ryan gave a presentation alongside Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia shows that leadership is on board with the effort.
“It wouldn’t have been a formal presentation and Ryan wouldn’t be leading the discussion if what’s happening didn’t have the support of leadership,” Cole said. “I think they want some of our best minds thinking through what our options are.”
On Thursday, Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan briefed members about the next 90 days. On Friday, the leaders will host an open microphone session during which rank-and-file members will have a chance to question them.
Ryan said part of the challenge is explaining to the freshmen who were just elected the logistics of what they will be dealing with in the first quarter of their first year in Congress.
But the theme of the retreat is broader than just the next 90 days. Republicans hope to come together after ending the 112th Congress with infighting. A dinner session on Wednesday was titled “Using Adversity to our Advantage by Working Together,” and another session scheduled for Thursday was called “Sailing Above Rough Seas.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.