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February 1, 2008

The Scaled-Down Expectations Of The Retreat Caucus

You have to hand it to the Democrats; they do surrender well. After coming out of their annual retreat last year with an ambitious agenda to force the White House into submission, the Congressional leadership managed to lose every major engagement with the supposedly lame-duck George Bush. This year, the term "annual retreat" took on new meaning:

A year ago, newly empowered House Democrats gathered here at the Kingsmill Resort for their annual retreat brimming with confidence. Before them was an ambitious legislative agenda and a determination to end or curtail the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

This time around, the hotel and golf courses are the same, but the song is markedly different. Gone is the talk of forcing President Bush to end the war, as is the impetus to pass a comprehensive immigration package and to stick to strict budget rules. Instead, Democrats are thinking smaller, much smaller.

They hope to leave today with the beginnings of a scaled-down plan to pass a handful of bills in the House -- even if they cannot get through the Senate -- and build a case for November that Democrats have been productive enough to warrant at least another two years in the majority.

Last year, they left the retreat warning George Bush that they ran Washington in the wake of their midterm-election victory. Now they don't even plan to get most of their bills out of Congress. Instead, their big plan -- their strategy for demanding another two years in the majority -- is a demonstration of futility by passing bills they can't get through even a Democratic Senate.

This, according to the Democrats, demonstrates their productivity.

And what does appear on this year's agenda? Opportunities for massive pork. They want a new energy bill, another transportation bill, and a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. All of these give Democrats traditional opportunities to lard up in time for the election. Except for NCLB, they all give Bush a chance to wield his veto pen.

I had no idea that Kingsmill could be found over the event horizon, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have pork barbecues on the agenda during the Congressional visit.


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