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House GOP Seeks to Draw Out Debt Ceiling Fight

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — House Republicans are considering a short-term increase to the debt limit that would essentially create another fiscal cliff in an attempt to force Democrats to agree to spending cuts.

The idea is one of many being floated at the three-day House GOP retreat at a golf resort here, where Republicans hope to put aside the bitter infighting of the past few years and come together around a common agenda.

Though no final decisions have been made, members at the retreat are indicating that the GOP is inclined to take a hard line on the fights that will characterize the next 30 days — a debt ceiling hike, the sequester and a continuing resolution for government appropriations.

“The worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring with no progress made on the debt and deficit,” House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters.

Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, said that a short-term debt ceiling increase is on the table, and Republicans could ask for spending cuts in return.

“We’re discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March,” Ryan said. “What we want to achieve at the end of the day is a two-way discussion between Democrats and Republicans and, out of that, hopefully some progress being made about getting the deficit and debt under control.”

Ryan is also leading what Republicans are calling a “working group” of five influential conservative members: Reps. Tom Price of Georgia, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

The group worked in advance of the retreat to formulate ideas about how to approach the debt ceiling and other upcoming spending battles, some of which Ryan presented Thursday at their closed-door meeting.

Ryan’s group puts some of the most powerful members of the conference’s right flank together. Some in the group, Price in particular, have sometimes been viewed as a threat to Speaker John A. Boehner.

Aides to the Ohio Republican said the speaker didn’t establish the group. But Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said the fact that Ryan gave a presentation alongside Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor shows that leadership is on board with the effort.

“It wouldn’t have been a formal presentation and Ryan wouldn’t be leading the discussion if what’s happening didn’t have the support of leadership,” Cole said. “I think they want some of our best minds thinking through what our options are.”

Ryan joined Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan in briefing members Thursday morning about the next 90 days. On Friday, the leaders will host an open microphone session during which rank-and-file members will have a chance to question them.

Ryan said part of the challenge is explaining to the freshmen who were just elected the logistics of what they will be dealing with in the first quarter of their first year in Congress.

But the theme of the retreat is broader than just the next 90 days. Republicans hope to come together after ending the 112th Congress with bickering and infighting. A dinner session on Wednesday was titled, “Using Adversity to our Advantage by Working Together,” and another session scheduled for Thursday night is called, “Sailing Above Rough Seas.”

The group is also trying to determine what House Republicans’ role is in the 113th Congress and how they can better reach out to voters. One of the final sessions scheduled for Friday is titled, “Discussion on Successful Communication with Minorities and Women,” and is being moderated by Rachel Campos-Duffy, the wife of Rep. Sean P. Duffy, R-Wis.

Meanwhile, conservative outside groups urged Republicans to demand a plan to balance the budget in 10 years in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Forty-one conservative leaders signed the letter, which was released as Republicans were meeting with the hope of influencing their debate.