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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Members lined up 15 deep behind a microphone to address their peers at a closed-door GOP meeting here that has significant implications for the future of House Republicans and the nation.
“This is the most important retreat I’ve been to in my 28 years in Congress,” Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, told his colleagues, a sentiment other members said was reflected in the sober and urgent tone of the discussions.
Bruised from poor election results and bitter internecine warfare, House Republicans are using the retreat to try to regroup and unify and to come up with a plan for how to tackle the divisive fiscal issues that drove them into disarray at the end of 2012.
A series of fiscal deadlines await in the next few months, as Congress grapples with a debt ceiling increase, soon-to-expire funding to keep the government operating and automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. And Republicans are searching desperately for a plan that resonates with the public and forces Democrats to agree to more spending cuts.
So far, the options for dealing with those weighty matters include short-term solutions that might enhance the GOP’s leverage with the White House on annual spending bills but that fall far short of the major budget deal both parties say they would like to forge.
Tentative plans are emerging from the meetings to couple repeated short-term increases of the debt ceiling with more modest demands on spending cuts. One such increase might be offered if the Senate agreed to take a vote on a balanced-budget amendment, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana said.
Though no final decisions have been made, members attending the three-day retreat at a golf resort here indicated that the GOP is inclined to take a hard line on the fiscal fights once it comes up with a strategy.
“The worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and deficit,” House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who recently urged Republicans to cave in the fiscal cliff talks over extending the Bush-era tax rates, was also adamant that he would not vote for a “clean” debt ceiling increase, saying it could not pass the House.
The rationale for the short-term debt ceiling increases is that Republicans could make incremental progress and force Democrats to participate more willingly in discussions on reducing the deficit. It also would push the debt limit deadline closer to the deadlines for passing new discretionary spending bills and the scheduled start of $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.