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Republican strategy memo focuses on Obamacare, not immigration

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks at Anne Frank Tree Dedication Ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2014. RE
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks at Anne Frank Tree Dedication Ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2014. RE

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A memo outlining the legislative agenda for Republicans in the House of Representatives lists replacement of President Barack Obama's healthcare law as a priority for the coming weeks but does not mention plans to tackle immigration reform.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent the memo to fellow Republicans as they returned from a two-week recess, employing a regular tool to help keep the party unified on its political message in the run-up to congressional elections in November.

Republicans have put criticisms of Obama's healthcare reform law at the center of their efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats and to boost their majority in the House.

Cantor said House Republicans would work to "reform our healthcare system by replacing Obamacare with policies that improve patient choice, access to doctors and hospitals and lower costs."

The memo also said the Republican-controlled House would pass permanent extensions of six temporary business tax breaks, including a credit for research and development activities. The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday approved the provisions, which would not be offset by other budget savings, adding $378 billion to U.S. deficits over the next decade.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has sent mixed signals in recent days on whether he wants the House to tackle immigration reform. Last week, he used a mocking tone to describe how some of his Republican colleagues have an aversion to immigration reform.

"Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard," Boehner said in a whining voice to a business luncheon in Middletown, Ohio, adding that some Republicans would prefer to "take the path of least resistance" and avoid the issue.

But Boehner, who has long called on lawmakers to press ahead with Republican immigration priorities such as improved border security, appeared to backtrack somewhat on Tuesday, saying that members misunderstood his "teasing" remarks.

Republican lawmakers said Boehner told them behind closed doors that the House would not take up last year's sweeping Senate-passed immigration reform bill, which would include a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.

Boehner and other Republican leaders have talked of possibly working on immigration reform through more narrowly focused bills.

Some immigration reform advocates say there is a very short window for passing any bills this year. If Congress doesn't vote on anything before the traditional August recess, the issue will become too politically charged ahead of the November 4 elections.

During that same time-frame, Congress also will likely need to pass an extension of transportation funding, because funding will likely be depleted by late August, according to the Department of Transportation. Some political analysts view the transportation bill as one of the few "must-pass" measures this year, but it also was absent from Cantor's agenda memo.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration sent Congress a request for $302 billion over four years to spend on roads, bridges and transit systems. Republicans are likely to object to Obama's proposal to pay for some of the funding with revenues from closing some tax breaks as fuel tax revenue declines.

Cantor said that Republicans in May also would pursue passage of normal appropriations bills and consider a resolution holding Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service's former director of tax exempt organizations, in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions regarding the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. He said Lerner "played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the

IRS."

"The House will consider the Contempt of Congress resolution in May unless she agrees to testify before the Oversight Committee," Cantor said.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan and Leslie Adler)

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