Fiscal issues are at the top of the agenda at the House GOP’s annual retreat in Baltimore, which is being held at a Marriott hotel overlooking the city’s picturesque Inner Harbor.
As Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the House whip, told NRO earlier this week, the three top discussion items continue to be the debt-ceiling vote, the soon-to-expire continuing resolution to fund the government, and the brewing budget battle for Fiscal Year 2012.
So far, the closed-door policy sessions have featured talks by Larry Kudlow, former senator Phil Gramm, and Art Laffer. Budget experts Larry Kotlikoff, Keith Hennessey, and Kevin Hassett also addressed the group of 200-plus lawmakers.
Other noteworthy guests have included former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke over breakfast, and a trio of GOP governors — Haley Barbour (Miss.), Bob McDonnell (Va.), and Rick Perry (Texas) — who took the lunch slot. Columnist George F. Will is slated to give the keynote speech tonight.
NRO ran into Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho) in the lobby. “It’s been good for the new members to see where the budget is and what it looks like,” he tells us. “A lot of them have said that they’re not going to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling. I understand where they’re coming from.” The sessions, he notes, are not a whipping exercise, but a “time to get all the facts out there, then let people make up their own minds.”
Security at the event is tight and press access to members is limited. Unlike last year’s retreat, which featured a live-television debate with President Obama, this summit is low-key, almost quiet. Ties are rare, and GOP leaders like McCarthy are clad in rumpled sweaters. Meetings will run through Saturday.