John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Time to take charge

Posted on January 13, 2015
Obama meets with Congressional Leadership July 2011.jpg

"Obama meets with Congressional Leadership July 2011" by Official White House Photo by Pete Souza - (Photograph 4 of 20). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

(This originally appeared in The Hill.)

Jay Leno is expected to give remarks to a joint meeting of House and Senate Republicans in Hershey, Pa., later this week.

There is some precedent of bringing a humorist to a congressional retreat.

I vaguely remember when P.J. O’Rourke addressed members at the party’s retreat in Princeton, N.J. It was 1990, and Republicans hadn’t been in the majority since Joe Martin was the Speaker in the 1950s. 

Dan Quayle, who then the vice president, was heckled by a couple of protestors as he addressed the group in Princeton. This was well before the Tea Party, so the hecklers weren’t members of Congress.

Congressional retreats are misnamed. There is nothing contemplative about them. They are planning conferences, meant to get buy-in from the wider membership about strategy and tactics.

In 1995, after Republicans swept both the House and Senate, John Kasich and Newt Gingrich convinced their colleagues, many of whom were very reluctant, to support them in a quest to pass a budget that actually balanced.

When Denny Hastert became Speaker, he used the conference to get buy-in for his plans to add a drug benefit to the Medicare program.

In 2003, George W. Bush addressed a joint Republican meeting at the Greenbrier, where he made his pitch for a “compassion agenda,” a big tax cut and support for the coming war in Iraq.

In 2010, Republicans invited President Obama to meet with them in Baltimore. Obama’s give and take with the GOP was carried live on television, and most Republicans would tell you it didn’t work out as well as they had expected.

These days, the conservative base isn’t in much of a mood to retreat.

They are so angry at Obama they want to charge forward, employing tactics not dissimilar to those used by Ferdinand Foch in the first World War.

These conservatives want to force the president to sign legislation that would reverse his executive order on immigration, just as they wanted to force Obama to repeal his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, a couple of years ago.

There is no evidence that such a frontal assault that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security would be any more successful than a similar strategy that actually shut the entire government down.

Given the events in France last week, it’s probably not that wise to hobble the DHS by cutting off its money.

It’s important for leaders to be straight with rank-and-file members about their plans for the year and to get their support for both the strategy and the tactics.

And it’s actually more important that the House and the Senate get on the same page when it comes to the budget than anything having to do with immigration or

The budget decisions will set the stage for other legislative activities.

It will help decide the allocations for spending bills. If Republicans can reach agreement on an appropriations strategy, they can send 12 different bills to the president’s desk that will include policy victories in each and every case. And by deploying regular order, they will avoid a huge omnibus bill that angers conservatives annually.

A budget will give Paul Ryan and Orrin Hatch the ability to work on tax reform legislation that will have reconciliation protection, meaning they can expedite it through the Senate with fewer than 60 votes.

And a budget will provide the opportunity to get a repeal of ObamaCare, in sum or in its parts, onto the president’s desk, where he will probably veto it.

Budgets are really important to the ultimate success of a legislative strategy, but they are also really, really hard to pass.

Congressional retreats are an important time for members of Congress to mix, mingle, have a few drinks, play a little poker and otherwise get to know each other better.

But they also play a far more serious purpose. If Republicans can successfully decide how to proceed on their budget strategy for the year, it won’t be a retreat. It will be real progress.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More