BALTIMORE (AP) — Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin pledged Friday that the House will produce a governing agenda by the time Republicans pick their presidential nominee later this year. "This is nothing short of a generational defining moment," Ryan told reporters as Republicans wrapped up their annual retreat here.
Ryan said the House would produce plans in five areas: Health care; jobs and the economy; national security; poverty and opportunity; and constitutional authority.
But he still couldn't say whether these programs would take the shape of actual legislation, or vaguer pledges along the lines of the Contract with America that helped Republicans retake the House in 1994. That remains to be determined by lawmakers themselves, not members of leadership, Ryan said.
Still, Ryan asserted that "The people of this country will know who we are and what we stand for when this is done."
"I expect we will have a complete agenda by the time our party has a nominee," he said.
Detailed legislation could be difficult to achieve. For years Republicans have failed to produce an alternative to President Barack Obama's health care law, for example, defeated by the difficulty of how to cover people without spending billions like Obama did. Ryan has promised this year they finally will come up with a health plan.
Several lawmakers said they will start with various Republican-written health bills that already have been produced and work to combine them and move them through committees.
Ryan avoided questions on the contentious presidential primary that's been the backdrop of the GOP retreat, not specifically on the agenda but on all lawmakers' minds. Some watched Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, although others attended a group outing to view the new movie on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which the House has been investigating.
But like it or not, success depends in large part on who emerges as their party's presidential nominee, and that's something that's largely beyond their control.
"Our presidential candidates are out there beating each other up at the moment, and that's going to solve itself at some point during the process," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters earlier in the retreat. "In the meantime, let me also make a point that we weren't sent here to do nothing."
None of the GOP contenders was present, as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida were in South Carolina for the debate. And so Republicans tried to avoid saying publicly what many believe privately: Cruz or Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, with their divisive rhetoric, could prove politically disastrous for the GOP, perhaps even costing them control of the Senate.
"We're going to support whoever the nominee is," Ryan insisted earlier. "You know why? Because it's the Republican primary voter who makes that decision. And that's who we respect."