Their agenda sidelined by a mass shooting in Arizona, House Republicans are gathering in Baltimore to refocus their attention on ways to cut spending and reduce the deficit. All House business was suspended for four days following the mass shooting that killed six and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Thursday announced that the chamber next week will take up a bill that would repeal the nation's health care reform law, a bill the House was scheduled to consider this week.
"Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new health care law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country," Cantor aide Brad Dayspring said. "It is our expectation that the debate will continue to focus on those substantive policy differences surrounding the new law."
Cantor and the entire Republican conference on Thursday met for the start of a three-day retreat in Baltimore, where, according to GOP aides, they began a discussion about their top legislative priorities of cutting federal spending, reducing the deficit and creating jobs.
The retreat is an annual event for both parties, but each year brings a new set of circumstances that change the dynamics.
This year, Republicans are in the majority for the first time in 12 years and the retreat marks their best opportunity to huddle at length with an historically large, 87-member freshman class, many of whom are affiliated with Tea Party groups that are demanding immediate action to stop what they perceive to be runaway federal spending. Many of these new members are opposed to raising the government's debt limit beyond its current $14.3 trillion, so House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is likely to get an earful on the topic on which Congress will have to vote in coming months.
Among the speakers addressing the retreat are potential 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress.
Republicans are also certain to discuss how to proceed with their agenda in the wake of the weekend shooting in Tucson. Police portray the accused shooter as mentally unstable with no political ties.
Yet, the attempted assassination of a member of Congress has stirred debate over whether the two parties need to back down from the partisan rancor that has escalated drastically in recent years.
In that vein, Republicans didn't mention the title of the health care bill they'll take up next week, the "Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Law Act," though they also won't honor Democratic requests to rename it.
The retreat gives Republicans a chance to plan how they'll actually defeat the health care reforms. The bill they're taking up next week would repeal the law in its entirety, but while it will likely pass the Republican-controlled House it is expected to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Republicans will instead have to focus on stripping funding for the reforms through the budget process.