CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- House Republican leaders on Thursday took pains to emphasize that, like President Obama, they, too, have solutions to improve the lives of middle-class Americans. And in their view, better solutions.

But the undercurrent driving their annual policy and political retreat along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay is how they plan to tackle immigration reform and the debt ceiling, which must be raised by the end of February to avoid a federal default.

During a news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said his leadership team would present principles for overhauling U.S. immigration law to their members, but that the process for determining a way forward would be collaborative and strive to forge consensus.

“I think it’s time we deal with it, but how we deal with it is going to be critically important,” Boehner told reporters. “It’s one thing to pass a law, it’s another thing to have the confidence of the American people.”

Boehner declined to confirm whether he would move a “clean” debt ceiling increase through the House, or demand that any borrowing limit increase include some measure of fiscal reform, even if only symbolic.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have vowed not to negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling and have demanded an increase without any strings attached. Boehner conceded that the issue presents political hurdles but made clear that allowing a federal default is not an option. “We know what the obstacles are that we face,” he said.

On Thursday, House Republicans kicked off their annual two-day policy and political retreat. They gathered at a Hyatt resort on the frigid, snowy banks of the Chesapeake Bay about 90 miles east of Washington. Scheduled speakers include the National Review's Rich Lowry, GOP pollster Frank Luntz and conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

House Republican leaders said their plan is to emerge from the week with an agenda focused on improving the lives of everyday Americans, who they say have suffered under Obama. Despite their criticism of the president, however, it was notable that GOP leaders stressed that they share many of his goals, stated in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, of implementing policies that can positively impact people's lives.

Boehner and every member of his leadership team speaking at Thursday morning’s news conference made that point.

“The discussion at this retreat is going to be not just about opposing the policies of this president has been about over the last several years, “ said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. “It is to craft an alternative for the people of this country so that we can see an America that works for everybody.”