Jobs Dominate Democrats’ Retreat

Posted February 2, 2009 at 6:29pm

The official theme for the House Democrats’ annual retreat is “A New Direction for America: Restoring Trust, Creating Jobs.” The unofficial theme for the confab, kicking off Thursday in Williamsburg, Va., might as well be, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

With every indicator signaling the economic crisis is worsening — new numbers released Monday showed manufacturing shrank again last month as consumer spending in December notched an unprecedented sixth month of decline — Congressional Democrats are heading into their issues conference with a continued focus on how to mount a turnaround.

The three-day session at the Kingsmill Resort will give the rank-and-file Democrats their first face time with President Barack Obama, who is slated to speak Thursday night, and Vice President Joseph Biden, set to appear the next day. A number of other administration officials, Democratic governors and business leaders are rounding out the lineup.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will talk Friday about the role that technology and innovation can play in the economic recovery. In one of the latest signs of the recession’s reach, his company last month announced the first major layoffs in its history, saying it would slash 5,000 jobs.

Energy reform will also be a featured topic at the retreat — again, with a focus on how new policies can help create jobs. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) plans to introduce Energy Secretary Steven Chu to speak on that subject.

A panel of governors, including Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the new Democratic National Committee chairman, will talk to House Democrats about how the economic meltdown is affecting states.

“It’s about figuring out how these pieces fit into our agenda, with a particular focus on the economy,” one senior Democratic aide said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman and Assistant to the Speaker, will try on both his hats for attendees, delivering a briefing on the political landscape and an update on the success of freshmen and sophomores promoting the economic recovery package at home.

On the political front, Van Hollen will deliver an “after-action review to talk about what happened in the 2008 cycle and preview what will happen in the 2010 cycle,” DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said. And, she said, Van Hollen will give an update on the state of play in the special election to replace now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

On the recovery bill, Van Hollen will argue that the national debate has obscured “the very positive local impact” of the measure, spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Van Hollen has been urging our new Members to go and aggressively inform constituents about the recovery bill’s local benefits, and so far the response has been positive.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the Faith Working Group, will host a breakout session with Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor who Obama recently tapped to head up faith-based initiatives.

“Members of the Faith Working Group will participate and discuss how faith plays a role in their personal lives and legislative lives,” Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco said.