John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Republican Retreat

Posted on January 18, 2012
The Republican Retreat

I won’t be making it to the House Republican retreat this weekend.

I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.

I think it was in 1991 when I went to first Republican retreat in Princeton, New Jersey.  I was a young staffer for House Minority Leader Bob Michel (well, I was a lot younger than I am now, for example), and as usual, the Republicans were in turmoil.

Newt Gingrich was gunning for Michel.  Mickey Edwards hated Newt Gingrich.  About half of the conference hated George H.W. Bush and the other half hated the half that hated Bush.

The old bulls, like Michel, had been in the minority for close to 40 years, but they weren’t without their accomplishments.   The Leader’s relationship with Tip O’Neill (and a workable alliance with moderate Democrats) had been vitally important in getting the Reagan revolution through the House in 1981 and 1982.

But the Reagan years were over, and his successor faced huge budget deficits as he promised to deliver a “kinder, gentler nation” without any new taxes.

Bush buckled on taxes and his kinder, gentler nation included a new civil rights bill and a clean air act, all things that pissed off the ascendant, conservative wing of the party.

As we all know, the Republicans ended up losing the White House, and then gaining the House of Representatives for the for first time in 4 decades two years later.

That was also John Boehner’s first Republican retreat.

He has seen the depths of party division and the heights of party success.

He has seen bitter infighting, and he has presided over historic legislative accomplishments.

This retreat might be the most important of his career, but you can say that about all of them.

He has to accomplish a few things over the next three days in Baltimore.

He needs to get his whole leadership team on the same page.  They have to stop the sniping for the next 10 months, or they will lose their majority.  It is as simple as that.

He needs to figure out if they are going to do a budget or not.  I can go either way on this one.  The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in a million years, and it hasn’t seemed to have hurt them very much.  But not passing a budget hurts the credibility of the Conference and some of the purists might not like that too much.

Budgets are hard to pass, and they leave you politically vulnerable.  The Ryan budget seemed like a good idea last year, but most of the Democrats’ campaign commercials are going to be based on it in the coming election.  So, unless they get an overwhelming consensus on how they are going to communicate the budget priorities, I would recommend not passing one.

Republicans also have to figure out what they want to do on tax policy and if they want to use the unemployment/payroll tax expiration as an excuse to get more stuff done.  This is the last train leaving the station, and if Republicans want to get any accomplishments this year, this is where they will get it done.  But they need to reach a consensus on that strategy.

It is not a sure thing that Republicans will keep their majority.  It never is a sure thing.  So the House GOP shouldn’t get too complacent.  Far too many members of the new class seemingly don’t care if they return next year to make me comfortable.

I am not going to be at this retreat, but that’s okay.  I went to enough of them when I was staffer to know how they go.  So has John Boehner.