Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are taking a cue from President Barack Obama by casting Republicans as the roadblocks preventing passage of legislation to aid the middle class.
During their three-day strategy session at a resort on Maryland’s Eastern shore, Democrats plan to build on the sharp contrast that Obama has been drawing.
“The problem with this Congress is there is no vision, and that opens up a wide berth for us to appeal to the American people, and we’re going to do that,” said New York Representative Joe Crowley, a member of the Democratic leadership. “The American people want to see a functioning Congress.”
The theme of the Democratic party retreat, “Reigniting the American Dream,” tracks closely with the central message of Obama’s Jan. 24 State of the Union address.
The event, which began yesterday, doubles as a rally for the party’s efforts to win back House seats lost in 2010. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida are among the scheduled speakers.
Democrats now hold 191 seats, compared to 242 for Republicans, with two vacancies.
Congressional candidates in many states have an extra challenge this year because of redrawn district boundaries that provide more safety to vulnerable Republicans.
Still, House Democrats have a more assertive posture than a year ago, when they spent their retreat reflecting on what went wrong in the midterm election that delivered a 63-seat loss and a Republican majority.
A year later, they maintain that public sentiment is shifting back in their direction following bitter battles last year over government spending, raising the federal debt limit and extending a 2 percentage-point payroll tax cut for works.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Jan. 12-15 put approval of Congress at 13 percent, the lowest ever in that survey. A Dec. 15-18 Gallup poll placed the figure at 11 percent, also a record low.
Democratic candidates plan to tell voters that if returned to the majority, they can do better.
“We’re in a very strong position,” said Representative Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat who heads the DCCC’s candidate recruitment and retention efforts. “Many of these candidates present themselves to us and say they want to step up and do it, and they’re a wide variety - mayors and sheriffs and veterans and business people and people from state legislatures.”
With the election a little more than nine months away, political considerations are pressing enough to prompt at least one member of the caucus to consider skipping the retreat.
Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona said he may miss all or part of the retreat so he can spend that time at home. Former state Senator Amanda Aguirre announced last month that she was forming a committee to explore challenging Grijalva in the state’s Aug. 28 primary.
“I want to check out my district first,” Grijalva said. “Some of us might have primaries.”
Grijalva, who survived a tougher-than-anticipated race in 2010, said Democrats were better positioned “attitude-wise” now than they were a year ago, in part because Obama is taking a harder line with Republicans.
“In the House, our legs were not strong because there was this effort to try to reach consensus, bipartisanship, and we discovered, time after time, that the Republican majority and the Tea Party faction in particular were not going to play it,” he said.
Georgia Republican Tom Price said Democrats should move more in the direction of the majority party.
“Hopefully, they’ll come to the conclusion that they need to encourage their leader, the president, to work with Congress,” Price said.
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