As they try to demonstrate their commitment to tackling joblessness, House Democratic leaders have decided to scrap altogether their annual retreat, held for the past five years at an upscale Virginia spa, and instead stay in town for a jobs summit.
The event — in recent years a three-day “issues conference— held at the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Va. — will now take place mid-January at Fort McNair, a more than 200-year old Army post on the point of land where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers meet.
“Jobs are the No. 1 issue on the minds of the American people, so we’re focusing on jobs,— one Democratic leadership aide said. “In these difficult economic times, we thought this would be the best use of our time.—
Leaders, who made the call at their Tuesday evening huddle, had been considering a range of other options for holding the conference outside the Beltway. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) had proposed Charleston, S.C. — a destination with wide support among House Democrats that he argued could be used to spotlight persistent unemployment in the Palmetto State.
But the leadership team decided against the city amid concerns it would appear Democrats were jetting off to sunny climes while average Americans struggle. They then weighed bleaker backdrops — in Detroit and Baltimore, for example — before deciding to keep it local.
The decision points to the rising political pressure facing Democrats while unemployment rolls continue to grow.
After approving a massive health care overhaul that Republicans blasted as a budget buster, House Democrats are now trying to strike a balance in crafting a jobs package. They need it to pack enough punch to goose hiring without exacerbating growing public fears over the size of the deficit.
It was not immediately clear how the jobs summit would be structured, or whether lawmakers would be expected to bunk on campus or go home at night. In past years, the retreat has been a time for lawmakers to bond in a sequestered setting away from their hectic day-to-day routines on Capitol Hill. In the most recent conference, held earlier this year, a record 200 Democratic lawmakers made the trip. The conference was jam-packed with events, including addresses by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and others. Members also enjoyed down time, and many brought their spouses.
Democrats escaped criticism for the trip until the most recent trip, in 2009. Then, as they bashed Wall Street titans for their outsized pay packages and posh corporate retreats amid the economic meltdown, editorial boards and ethics watchdogs took notice, rapping House Democrats as hypocritical and out of touch.