WASHINGTON—House Republicans concluded a three-day retreat on Saturday, apparently full of vigor about ending “Washington’s spending binge.”
“Washington has an illness. The illness is spending. The debt is a symptom of that illness,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to over 200 lawmakers assembled in a hotel overlooking the Baltimore harbor.
Referring to Democrats, he said, “If they want us to help pay their bills, they are going to have to start cutting up their credit cards.”
“'Cutting up the credit cards’ means cutting spending – and implementing spending reforms to ensure we keep on cutting,” said Boehner in a statement released by his staff.
The strong language comes at a time when Republicans are most vulnerable to public opinion from their party base, and independent voters who supported them during the mid-term elections. They are also likely to be affected by a large freshman class, some of whom have taken extreme positions on spending.
The language also highlights the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats on issues of how to best run the country, and sets a serious tone in advance of the President’s State of the Union address, scheduled to take place Jan. 25.
Boehner’s comments are notable for his use of the words “job-destroying” rather than the usual rhetoric of “job-killing” to refer to concerns that spending during Obama’s tenure has led to an increase in the country’s debt.
They likely demonstrate sensitivity to last week’s shooting spree in Arizona which left six people, including a federal judge, dead, and wounded 14 others. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the sometimes vitriolic political discourse was spotlighted in the media, with some people asserting that language containing violent imagery could prompt people with mental disabilities to commit violent acts.
The tragedy also overshadowed what would have been Republican’s first full week as the House majority. All congressional legislating was canceled last week in order to craft an appropriate response to the events, especially because one of the seriously wounded was one of their own, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
Republicans were voted into power during the mid-term elections, after running campaigns highly focused on reigning in federal spending. Boehner’s strong words coming out of the party’s annual retreat reaffirms an already well-known commitment.
Because the events were closed to the press, and most members are staying tight-lipped about strategy discussions, many of the details of the three-day conference have not been revealed.
Speakers are said to have included former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, conservative economist Keith Hennessey, a former economic advisor of President George W. Bush. A trio of freshman presented views of the incoming class.
General topics of discussion included public opinion, policy, budget and debt and health care.
Just prior to the swearing in of the 112th Congress on Jan. 5, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters that Republicans would offer a “cut and grow” agenda, focusing on cutting spending and reducing regulation.
“To that end, you will see the “cut and grow” playbook begin to take hold over the…weeks leading up to the State of the Union,” said Cantor.
This week, House Republicans will offer a bill, likely to pass with their majority, to repeal the contentious health care legislation passed by Obama and Democrats.
With Republicans now controlling the House schedule, they are promising to offer a spending cut proposal each week, which satisfies part of a campaign promise elucidated in their “Pledge to America.”
Currently, the government is operating on a Continuing Resolution, which is set to expire in March. Before then, lawmakers will need to decide on a workable budget. They are also facing a vote on the debt ceiling, which will need to increase to accommodate rising government costs.