House Republicans Hone Strategy to Take On Obama

At their annual retreat here, House Republicans outlined an agenda quite similar to the one that drove their first year as the House majority, saying they would pursue bills that would vigorously rework the Medicare program, dismantle regulations they find stifling to business and champion an oil pipeline that the White House has rejected.

“I’ve asked every member of every committee to look at the president’s policies,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, “and help the American people understand and help, frankly, other members of Congress understand the devastating impact of these policies on our economy.”

While several members said they had come to realize that they would probably not have a willing partner in Senate Democrats for their legislative efforts this year — a fact that seemed to elude them for much of last year — they said they would continue to showcase their policy preferences as a contrast to, and often rebuke of, the president, who has said he will spend the next year targeting them from his campaign bully pulpit.

Overhaul of the Medicare program remains a priority. “Our point is — fix it now, do it on our terms,” said Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of the House budget.

Republicans, undaunted by the payroll tax holiday debacle that hurt their conference last month, said that they were considering using the Keystone XL Pipeline as a chip in the next round of negotiations over the tax break, as part of their overall efforts to push back against White House policies this year.

“We are going to be looking at every option to keep this issue at the forefront,” said Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a member of the joint House-Senate negotiating committee tasked with coming up with a bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits through the rest of the year. “Certainly that is within the scope of the conference,” he said.

However, using Keystone as a bargaining chip in the negotiations to extend the payroll tax cut would probably not be fruitful; Democrats on the committee are likely to reject the idea out of hand, and Republicans will have to use legislation in their chamber to further push the matter.

On the matter of Medicare, Mr. Ryan said that Republicans would probably continue to pursue a plan that would offer subsidies for beneficiaries to purchase insurance as a possible alternative for some Medicare enrollees.

“We think our Medicare reforms have become more politically palatable,” Mr. Ryan said. “There is emerging bipartisan consensus going forward about how to fix Medicare, but I can’t tell you what our budget is going to be because we haven’t written it yet.” He added, “We are not backing off on the kinds of reforms we’ve advocated.”

The Republican retreat, with its central focus on beating back Mr. Obama’s attempts to demonize Congress as he campaigns for re-election, is a marked departure from the getaway in 2010, when Mr. Obama combatively addressed Republicans as their guest, a year before the party took control of the House.

Many members were infuriated by Mr. Boehner’s unilateral agreement with the Senate on a short-term payroll tax deal last month, and the speaker used the retreat to try to rally members around his leadership, arguing that he is the quarterback, and that Republicans need to run the play he calls.

Democrats were quick to criticize the statements emanating from Baltimore. “For one full year, the do-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway united Republican House has given Americans no jobs bills, a plan to end the Medicare guarantee and manufactured crises. In return for their unity, Americans have given them back the proud title of the worst Congress in history,” said Nadeam A. Elshami, a spokesman for Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

While the goal of the retreat was to promote Republican unity, some members seemed concerned about their image. As one point, breathless and somewhat frazzled, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California raced into a news filing center to share some of his ideas for tax-free stock ownership plans for employees, and other measures he hoped to get his colleagues to listen to. “I think that working people need to know that Republicans are not just on the side of the boss,” he said.

While Mr. Boehner said he hoped that some job-creating measures could be passed in a bipartisan manner this year, much of the talk from Republican leaders featured sharp criticism of Mr. Obama, and pointed to the president’s planned trips to swing states in coming weeks as overtly political.

“I may have been born at night,” Mr. Boehner said, “but it wasn’t last night.”

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