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What's Happening in Williamsburg: The GOP "Retreats"

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The welcoming remarks of an unidentified member of the senior GOP House leadership to the assembled Republican conference gathering for a "retreat" in Williamsburg have leaked:


Welcome to Williamsburg, Members of the House Republican Conference. We hope you enjoy your retreat.

Perhaps we should begin with that age old tradition: Look to your left. Now look to your right. Either you or one of those two people won’t be here in two years. Perhaps two of the three will be gone. If you are sitting in the wrong row, all three of you could be looking for work with the Potato Chip and Snack Food Association.

Just kidding. Sort of. Actually, we don’t have a clue. Nobody does. The base may be stunned into despair or it may be ready to go Vesuvius, we can’t be sure. Feels like Vesuvius most days.

It really could be that dire, and we tell you this simply because if you have only two years as a congressman, you might as well enjoy them. Play some golf while you are here. Catch the glass blowing exhibit. Your kids will love the guys in the funny hats with the muskets.

Had we been on top of things –big “if,” that one—we’d have gotten you all copies of Jon Meacham’s new bestseller Jefferson: The Art of Power. So much of it is set in Williamsburg, and so much of it describes genuine political leadership that it would really have been a good thing to suggest you read it before arriving here. But which Congressmen read anything these days. We are passing out a transcript of a long interview Meacham gave. Perhaps your staff could summarize it for you, and you can pretend you have read the whole book when you get back home

As I was saying, welcome. We have a pretty full agenda, and you have no idea how difficult it is to fill up this much time and avoid talking about the real issues. Our reputation for folding like old beach chairs and the disarray in the leadership are painful to discuss much less fix, however, so we won’t be doing much of that. We do have some fine talks coming up, but we can usually count on our speakers to do their best to ingratiate themselves to you and avoid uncomfortable subjects like the promises you made in getting here. We do note Dr. Larry Arnn from Hillsdale College is on the agenda, and we aren’t quite sure how that slipped by the program committee of the Speaker’s Office, but that could be interesting and memorable.

Some of you would like to have a long conversation about the next month which, after all, will do much to define the 113th Congress and almost certainly determine if you are drawing a primary challenger funded by The Campaign for Primary Accountability. (Our apologies to Spencer Bacchus. Didn’t mean to make him twitch that way. )

If you haven’t yet had a chance, do read the Jim VandeHei's and Mike Allen's piece from Politico earlier in the week if you’d really like to know what the Speaker’s team thinks about most of you. We’d like to apologize for some of the blunter, loose talk in the piece, the stuff about how you need to be “pacified,” how you need to stage a show for your constituents, and how there will be a lame deal at the end of the shouting that basically agrees to enormous amounts of new unfunded spending and zero meaningful entitlement reform.

That was a little blunt, and the Speaker has talked to his team about rounding the edges of their contempt for you and the conservative base. On the plus side, it was candid, right? That is what will happen, and then you’ll roll over on what the appropriators want, and then come May you have to go home and start raising money to fend off the primary challenges because nothing changed except the size of our astronomical debt.

Just bottom-lining it for you. We may get something rolling on immigration to try and draw off some of the heat from our impotence on spending. Paul Ryan, who we all know rose in the nation’s esteem because he made tough choices and defended them in public, is willing to do so again on immigration, working with Senator Rubio, so you may or may not be able to talk about something other than our serial collapses when you get home for the summer, but let’s face it, the president has stolen another march on us there as well. Still, thank you Paul for trying. Having a member who is known to be thinking about big issues is a great boon to all of us.

Now, we know there is grumbling. We fully expect some Oliver Twist among you to approach the Speaker and say “Please sir may I have some more,” or the 2013 equivalent of an abject plea for basic necessities. But we aren't in the business of fulfilling your needs this cycle.

Some of you would like to know where we have been since November 6 or even since January 2? Why don’t we have a draft bill to actually discuss that ups the debt ceiling in exchange for a raise in the age of Medicare eligibility, block granting Medicaid, even a raise in the age of Social Security eligibility another year or so, and of course which tinkers with the CPI? Why don’t we have actual draft legislation on immigration to discuss? Why can’t we pass out the secret deal Hal Rogers has cooked up on appropriations? We know. We hear some of you when you make the mistake of appearing on talk radio. (We’d like to talk to you about that, offline by the way. Those people are not your friends. You really shouldn’t go on those shows. Try developing a relationship with someone from Politico or MSNBC.)

Look, actual draft legislation, that’s not how this works. We have hunkered down. Every time we appear anywhere we get blistered by the MSM and by our so-called friends in talk radio. If we stay on the golf course and away from governing or even trying to govern, no one gets hurt. Well, we don’t get hurt.

Now, some of you might get hurt, but you are all from new districts. If you can get past the primary, you are for the most part golden. Unless we get another 2006 or 2008, which isn’t likely because, after all, November of 2014 will be the president’s “6 year itch” election, and we should do ok just by breathing. Unless we really and truly do have a debt crisis where the bond vigilantes start forcing up the cost of our debt and the red ink explodes.

Heh. As though any amount of red ink more than a trillion matters. Can’t even believe I said that. Sheesh. Sorry. We are supposed to pretend like a trillion here and a trillion there adds up to real money.

Bottom line: The senior members of the caucus have got theirs. They can retire out on comfortable pensions to good company town jobs regardless of what happens. Sure, we’d like to keep the majority. The offices are bigger and the staffs are larger. But we aren’t going to do anything to sacrifice our positions in D.C., no matter who holds the gavel in a few years.

Most of you have the same sweet deal ahead of you. Those of you who last ten years at least. Try thinking of it that way: Your goal is to make it ten years. No one gets there by bucking leadership. That’s the bottom line.

Some of you have some qualms about this sort of realism, and I don’t mean the show-boaters who actually voted against Paul Ryan’s budget because it didn’t balance and who are just adopting a different career path. No, I mean the genuinely conscientious among you who believe the country is in an honest-to-God crisis.

Let me get a little existential on you for a moment. A country isn’t in a crisis until a country believes it is in a crisis. Some of you want us to try and persuade the country it is in a crisis, but we just don’t think that can be done. That is why we don’t argue our case in public, why we think Meet the Press is the sum total of our out-reach duties. We aren’t cynical, just experienced. We can’t “message.” We don’t know how to use Twitter or social media. We are old white guys. If you cut us, we do bleed, but nobody cares and nobody thinks we care, so we are resigned to this.

Some of you, and God love ya, you think you have a duty to do something. Well, we all used to. It is the common denominator, at least for most of us: Why we got into this business.

But now is not the time to encourage you in the rekindling of that passion. Go pick an issue and work it. Do a little good, don’t rage against the dying of the light. Raise some money. We’ll arrange some votes you can take to hold off the primary challengers. We care, we really do.

But please, for all of our sakes, stop pretending we can beat the president and his pals in the press. Maybe if we get the Senate in 2014 we can do something. In the meantime, we will stop any new nightmares from arriving at his desk, and we will spend $4 trillion we don’t have and pray the world believes we will fix it in 2017.

Enjoy the weekend.


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