“It’s a time for self-reflection,” said one member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the private discussions. “Our identity with the American people has really, really suffered, and this is a conversation about collectively restoring a values-driven identity.”
Although there was some urgency for a change, the consensus was that the change was about how to communicate, not about rethinking core policy positions.
“This is about tone. It’s about messaging and it’s about showing people what we’re for instead of what we’re against,” said Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), describing his message to House Republicans at a lunch-time session Thursday.
“Rape is a four-letter word — don’t say it,” the group was advised by a Republican pollster in another session, said one person familiar with the discussion. That was a reference to controversies about rape and abortion that were partly to blame for the GOP losing two Senate seats — in Indiana and Missouri — in November.
Sessions this week included advice on turning around troubled organizations from the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza and a motivational address from the first blind man to summit Mount Everest. But much of the retreat was devoted to what amounted to open-mic sessions to let members strategize for the upcoming fiscal fight.
The nation has reached its $16.4 trillion credit limit and without congressional action, the Treasury Department has said the government will be unable to meet its spending obligations sometime in February or early March. Many Republicans want to use the moment to extract deep spending cuts from Obama, including in entitlement programs.
The president says that without increased borrowing authority, the nation will default on its debt obligations and send the world’s economy into a tailspin.
One possible course, aides said, would involve raising the debt ceiling for just a few months in exchange for several hundred billion dollars in budget cuts, probably culled from a bipartisan list developed in 2011 in talks led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Vice President Biden.
A longer-term debt-limit increase would be available thereafter, but only if the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate approved a framework to set tax and spending policies for the next decade.
That would avoid a federal default and move the negotiation to areas in which the president seems more amenable and have less impact on the broader economy: the automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs set to hit in early March and the expiration on March 27 of a funding bill to keep the government running.