The House returns to session today, and you can forgive them for feeling a distinct sense of deja vu. When they left, they faced a deadline to pass a payroll tax cut, extended unemployment benefits and a doctor’s fix for Medicare reimbursement rates. Weeks later, they return to a deadline to pass a payroll tax cut, extended unemployment benefits and a doctor’s fix for Medicare reimbursement rates. Officially, this legislation heads to a conference committee, giving the leadership plausible deniability on how to proceed. Realistically, John Boehner controls how things will go.

The major differences between last month and today are that the election year has begun, and House Republicans remember too well the catastrophe that was their brief holdout on the two-month stopgap extension. Those two points will surely get made during the Republican retreat this week, where they will plot strategy.

“A lot of us who went into battle turned around and no one was behind us,” freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said last week, sounding like the fight was still fresh and insistent that leadership had abandoned them.

“A lot of us are still smarting,” he added [...]

Grievances are certain to be aired at a House GOP retreat in Baltimore later this week. The strategy and agenda session also will be a gripe session for some of the 242 House Republicans.

“It might be a little more spunky than normal,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

I’ve heard some informed speculation that Boehner will, at long last, abandon the Tea Party caucus this time, passing whatever bill Democrats can sign onto, and quickly, before the State of the Union, robbing the President of a high-profile opportunity to run against Congress. I’m not so sure of that. Whether Boehner retains the House or not, presumably he wants to stay in that leadership position, and members already view him with a sense of betrayal. Ignoring the caucus entirely on the most – only? – consequential legislation of the second session of the 112th Congress is a ticket to lose that leadership position. And we know that the ambitious Eric Cantor waits in the wings. Boehner is stuck. And I don’t think past experience shows him having the fortitude to break with his party.

Anyway, it’s hard to even say with a straight face that “Congress returns.” They will spend even more time in their districts this year than they did last year. Rick Perry called for a part-time legislature in last night’s debate; I wonder what he thinks we have now. Most if not all of the important items on the agenda will only get dealt with in the lame duck session, as a number of measures expire or trigger at that time. Until then, expect a long slog with pretty much no progress. Congress has earned those record high disapproval ratings, and this year’s output aims to keep that disapproval right where it is.