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Leaders Want to Focus Conference on President’s Policies

BALTIMORE — House GOP leaders today signaled they hope to put an ugly internal rift over the Conference’s direction behind them, insisting that Republicans are united heading into the new year behind a renewed focus on the economy.

The leadership team emerged from a retreat meeting here aiming to put down any talk of GOP disunity and replace it with stern criticisms of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we are united,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “We are united in the cause that we’ve come here to further, and that cause is to make sure we get the economy going again, get small businesses growing.

“The onus is on the Democrats as to whether they want to join us in delivering results or not. And we’ll see,” he added.

The leaders convened their annual Conference retreat Thursday hoping to turn the page on the damaging December fight over a payroll tax cut extension in which House Republicans lost their political footing and the GOP rank and file openly criticized their leaders’ handling of the issue.

One day into the retreat, the reconciliation is going well, said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice chairwoman of the GOP Conference.

“We’re off to a good start” this year, the Washington Republican said, explaining that Republicans have “had a conversation of where we were in 2011, lessons learned … and [now] it’s, ‘Where do we want to go.’”

McMorris Rodgers also said discussions thus far have been upbeat and that “the Conference is very engaged.”

On the third anniversary of Obama’s inauguration, the Republican leaders sought to highlight what they call his failed economic policies — especially heading into an election that Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) said will be a referendum on the president’s handling of the economy.

Boehner said the year ahead will be filled with committee oversight of the executive branch.

“I’ve asked every Member of every committee to look at the president’s policies and help the American people understand and help, frankly, other Members of Congress understand the devastating impact of these policies on our economy,” he told reporters. “Our focus over the course of this year will be on the economy and on jobs.”

Democrats fired back, accusing Republicans of being unwilling to compromise with Democrats and the White House.

“For one full year, the do-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway united Republican House has given Americans no jobs bills, a plan to end the Medicare guarantee and manufactured crises. In return for their unity, Americans have given them back the proud title of the worst Congress in history. Now is the time for the Republicans to decide if working with Democrats on behalf of the middle class is more important than holding on to that title,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Boehner also returned to the talking point that has helped rally Republicans this week: the administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project. As he has before, Boehner said Republicans might push to include language on the project in another payroll tax cut deal.

“We’re going to do anything we can to see this project initiated,” he said, adding that he will be looking for “every opportunity we can do advance this idea.”

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