House Democrats stick close to home for their annual retreat
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Facing a potentially dangerous election cycle and a recession their policies haven't stopped, House Democrats are conducting an unusual kind of "retreat": a series of meetings in the Capitol.
Eager to avoid portraying themselves as relaxing while millions of Americans remain out of work, House Democrats formally kicked off their annual issues conference Thursday in an auditorium in the Visitor's Center in the Capitol Building, eschewing their normal three-day trip to the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va. .
Reflecting the worry about unemployment, the sessions at the retreat are nearly all about jobs. A group of business leaders, such as Michael Todman, an executive at the appliance maker Whirlpool, and Tim Healy, CEO of an energy company called EnerNOC, are scheduled to address the caucus, along with labor leaders including Gerald McEntee, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, opened the session Wednesday night with a speech to lawmakers, and President Obama is expected to talk his plans for creating jobs when he appears before the group on Thursday afternoon. About 170 of the more House's 256 Democrats are expected to attend.
The lone speaker to focus on health care will be former president Bill Clinton, who is expected to encourage members to compromise with the Senate and push through the legislation that leaders in both Houses are now negotiating.
"Look as important as health care is, and as front and center as it is in the Beltway, when I go home ... they care about health care, but they're focused on jobs," said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) , a member of the House leadership who helped organize the retreat. "They know without a job, there's not an awful lot of hope of them getting health care."
Nearly every element of the retreat reflects the considerably less optimistic place Democrats find themselves compared to a year ago. Then, members' wives rushed to get pictures with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, and the biggest complaint among the Democrats was that Obama was spending too much time trying to negotiate with House Republicans in crafting a bipartisan stimulus bill, an effort that House Democrats correctly viewed as futile.
Now members are choosing to retire this year rather than run for election in the face of what appears an anti-incumbent mood in the country. Lawmakers in the House are increasingly frustrated not only with Republicans, but Democrats in the Senate, who they feel have weakened the health care bill and blocked or failed to act on a number of other initiatives.
"64 of our bills still sit over in the Senate," Larson noted, even as he tried to sound upbeat in briefing reporters about the retreat. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif), another House Democratic leader, offered a more optimistic tone, telling reporters, "If we kept you busy in 2009, you ain't seen nothing yet."
Perry Bacon Jr.
January 14, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Economy
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