“If we're willing to do it, we want something in return,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), one of the chamber’s most fiscally conservative members. “Our constituents are going to demand that. Even if it’s short-term, what are we getting for that?”
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the goal is to use this moment to reduce deficits, while recognizing that Republicans are limited by the fact that they do not control the Senate or the White House.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
“We think the worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said, offering his most expansive exchange with reporters since his unsuccessful vice presidential bid. Aides said Ryan is reassuming his role as the GOP’s front man on budget issues.
The House Republicans’ retreat follows a particularly rocky period for them politically: The November election went poorly. Besides Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney, Democrats enlarged their Senate majority and picked up eight seats in the House.
Lawmakers and staff members attending the retreat described the discussions as passionate and intense, but not angry.
“I think this is a time where now you can catch your breath a little,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), noting that the gathering comes just two months after Election Day and after weeks of intense wrangling over the “fiscal cliff” and the start of a new Congress.
The retreat will continue into Friday. One senior aide said that as of Thursday, the conversation was dominated by the fiscal debate. Members only briefly discussed gun control, a topic that Obama indicated this week will be a core plank of his second-term agenda. On that issue, Boehner told members privately what he has been saying publicly: The House will not act until it sees what the Senate does.
Republicans have spent more time broadly discussing a need to address the nation's immigration laws and they will hold a session Friday on “successful communications with minorities and women.”
Walden, responsible for getting more Republicans elected to the House as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he hopes the GOP will be more sensitive to how it appeals to Hispanics before future elections.
“We may not understand how what we say is interpreted by others and we have to be sensitive and understand the effect of our language,” he said.
Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.