Republicans are trying to move left of the dial and the country right of center.
The theme of the House GOP retreat in Cambridge, Md., Thursday was that the party was trying to offer an alternative, not just opposition. However, as House Republicans trooped into the Blue Point Provision Co., a seafood restaurant adjacent to the Hyatt Regency resort, to address reporters, the policy proposals often seemed more reminiscent of one of the restaurant’s advertised specials: “Throwback Thursday.”
House Republicans clustered at the hotel seemed to have few new approaches. The biggest headline out of the retreat was the immigration principles released late Thursday afternoon by Speaker John Boehner. While the principles do provide for citizenship for those brought to the U.S. illegally as children and a path to permanent legal status for many undocumented immigrants, the proposal also makes it a long and difficult road to get there. The House Republican plan still takes a step-by-step approach and requires tough, if indeterminate, steps to secure the border as well as an overhaul to the immigration system, before any undocumented residents get legal status. It also categorically rejects the immigration compromise passed by the Senate in June 2013. In other words, it’s more of a rhetorical gesture than an actual step toward legislation.
The plan also faces opposition from many in the House GOP caucus. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, seemed totally unwilling to trust President Obama on the subject. Scalise said the president “needs to show good faith that he’s willing to enforce laws fairly. Not use the pen to rewrite laws and literally create loopholes on immigration.” But, this was by far the biggest accomplishment of the retreat.
There was a much-ballyhooed plan to have the House vote on a single, official Republican alternative to Obamacare—a potential successor to the president’s signature legislation, something the party has called for since the moment the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010. The complaints raised were familiar. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) bemoaned the burden on young people, while Scalise said the system needed to return to patient-centered health care. In other words, it was absolutely nothing new.
The GOP also seemed determined to reopen the battle over raising the debt ceiling. Unless Congress acts, the U.S. will lose the ability to take on new debt by the end of February. The Obama administration has been determined to get the debt limit raised “cleanly,” without any other caveats or other legislation attached. Now Republicans are balking. In a session with reporters, the soft-spoken Michigan Congressman Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters that discussions on the debt limit are “still preliminary.” In English, that means they likely haven’t really started.
For all the talk of a “bold agenda” and positive alternative, everything that Republicans presented today was just the same old song. But then again, it’s not like there was much new in the State of the Union on Tuesday either.