Ten Takeaways from the GOP Retreat
House Republicans huddle in eastern Virginia.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan


Robert Costa

Williamsburg, Va. — Due to the rainy weather, House Republicans aren’t having a grand time at their retreat this week, which is being held at the sprawling Kingsmill Resort. Few members have played golf, or ventured to nearby Colonial Williamsburg. But inside the hotel, which is surrounded by armed guards, Republicans are quietly planning their debt-limit strategy and talking politics in a ballroom overlooking the James River.

So far, prominent pollsters and journalists, such as Charlie Cook and William Kristol, have hosted briefings. During meals, several motivational speakers, including a blind mountain climber, have attempted to inspire the casually dressed lawmakers. There has also been much discussion about marketing. Patrick Doyle, chief executive of Domino’s Pizza, gave a well-received talk about selling a damaged brand to a modern audience.

But for the most part, the theme running through the sessions has been unity. As the next series of legislative battles nears, House GOP leaders are asking Republicans to stick together, especially after the internal clashes during the fiscal-cliff debate. Speaker John Boehner, for his part, has been a low-key presence. “He has been sitting back and listening,” says a Republican member. “He wants us to think more and fight less.”

Here are ten takeaways.

A short-term debt-limit extension is possible. Republicans are mulling the “possible virtue” of a short-term extension of the debt limit, according to Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan and other House leaders see such a move as the best way to engage President Barack Obama on spending cuts in the coming months. They believe that once the immediate threat of default is off the table, Republicans will be in a better bargaining position; the less drama, the better. “The last thing we should be debating is whether we’re going to put the nation’s full faith and credit at risk,” Representative Greg Walden of Oregon said at a press conference.

Conservatives are divided on the debt limit. Many members are open to the idea of extending the debt limit into the spring, but it’s by no means a done deal. There is already a divide over strategy, and whether the debt limit should be used as leverage. Some members want to tie spending cuts to the debt ceiling, while others see the upcoming defense sequester and continuing resolution to fund the government as safer battlefields. To GOP leaders, the political and economic consequences of the sequester, or of a government shutdown due to a failure to extend the government’s funding, look far more manageable than default. Meanwhile, a growing group of conservative members is pushing for a balanced-budget amendment to be attached to a short-term extension, so nothing is settled.

Paul Ryan is a behind-the-scenes leader. Ryan, who has been relatively quiet since the presidential election, has stepped back into the spotlight. On Thursday, the Budget Committee chairman surprised reporters by holding an impromptu press conference, and he drew notice from his colleagues for his extemporaneous remarks, in which he backed the idea of a short-term debt-limit extension and boosted Boehner. As the embattled speaker looked on, Ryan assured backbenchers that Boehner is listening to him and other conservative members.