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Conservatives Feel the Optimism at Heritage Retreat

BALTIMORE — Conservative House Republicans gathered at a posh hotel in Maryland are aiming for a fresh start after a bruising election and intraparty battles had them slumping into the 113th Congress.

Indeed, the House GOP is more united now than it has been in the last few years, a sentiment that showed as the Republican Study Committee and the Heritage Foundation hosted three days of policy panels and talks for members.

Congressmen played down the strife of recent months and focused instead on the recent success of the No Budget, No Pay Act and how to spin that forward into unified policy victories in the coming months.

“If I had one word to describe this weekend, it would be optimism,” said Rep. Steve Southerland II of Florida, a leader in the RSC and the sophomore class leadership representative. “Our differences are tactical, strategy.”

Southerland said he believes the party is on firmer footing going into the battles over annual spending bills and automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. “Therefore the determining tactic is not as combative. It’s a little easier when you’re on firm ground,” he said.

Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state was the highest-ranking member of leadership to attend the retreat, and although many of the most hard-line conservatives may not have supported her for the post, she said members were appreciative that she came.

“People expressed they were pleased that I’d taken the time. I think it is important that I’m hearing from all different aspects, different perspectives, of the conference,” she said. “That’s how you build the trust, and we need to do that more often — take some time to listen to each other, where different members are coming from, so we can unify going forward.”

Members heard from a slate of speakers, including CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, a crowd favorite who used to work in the Reagan Administration and spoke to members about conveying conservative principles with positivity, as President Ronald Reagan did.

Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a physician who is considering a Senate run, led a panel discussion on health care, which focused on a tweaking their previous strategy, known as repeal-and-replace Obamacare. He said he will reintroduce his alternative to Obamacare for a third time.

“I asked folks to be really in tune with what their constituents are saying, because the consequences of this law is that real people are going to get hurt. They need to have their finger on that pulse,” Price said.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said the more the law gets implemented, the more appetite there will be to repeal it.

“Maybe our efforts were premature. Maybe not enough people know yet the downsides of Obamacare because they haven’t been impacted,” he said. “Maybe there will be a renewed interest in repealing it, scaling it back, replacing, because we tried last year and we didn’t get it done.”

There was also a fair amount of cheerleading and team building. Entrepreneur Steve Forbes took the group to Camden Yards for a tour of the baseball field and dinner on Thursday night, and on Thursday morning, the group toured the USS Constitution, which is docked in Baltimore Harbor.

“It’s a healthy mix of preaching to the choir — which sometimes you’ve got to have because sometimes a choir gets kind of down — and then sometimes you want to go into the wonkish details,” Mulvaney said. “There can be a lot of lonely times in this business when you think you’re the only one who feels like you do and you come here and you realize you’re not.”

An earlier version of this article misidentified the home state of Florida Rep. Steve Southerland II.

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