Democrats are tired of watching right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation supply the Republican Party with ideas and talent. So a group of Clinton administration exiles—featuring Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright—has been meeting in secret throughout the last year to level the playing field. The venture (which specializes in foreign affairs ) was about to launch this fall with a name, web site, and, presumably, some appetizers. Then terrorism made the world unsafe for partisanship. Ringleader Marc Ginsberg, ambassador to Morocco under Clinton, won’t say when the christening will occur. “Look, we want to be supportive and not partisan,” he says. For now, the group is making due with a “private” web site and a name that Ginsberg refuses to divulge. Word is that the group had settled on “Americans for Forward Engagement” an automotive-sounding moniker ill-suited to an entity seeking to distance itself from dreary think tanks. “That’s no longer the name,” Ginsberg protests. Will the new one be snappier? “Yes.”

Republicans never learn: During the 1996 budget showdown between the Bill Clinton’s White House and Newt Gingrich’s Congress, Republicans got hammered by vacationing constituents locked out of the beloved Yellowstone Park and the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum during the ensuing government shutdown. That lesson hasn’t rubbed off on OMB Director Mitch Daniels, Jr., who has shown remarkable indifference to the needs of Washington politicos. In his quest to clamp down on government spending to pay for tax cuts, Daniels has taken aim at the same sacred cows that forced the Republicans to cave in 1996: the Department of the Interior and the Smithsonian Institution. Over the summer, Daniels quipped that the Interior Department was “the world’s largest lawn-care service” and served notice that he wants to privatize U.S. Park Service jobs. More recently, Daniels proposed slashing the Smithsonian’s budget, halting renovation of the shuttered American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery, transferring $35 million from Smithsonian research projects to the National Science Foundation, and using $20 million of the Smithsonian’s general funds to upgrade security. Already Congress is squawking. Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), a Smithsonian board member, called the cuts “devastating,” and others are sure to follow. After all, the Smithsonian gets 20 million visitors a year—visitors whose D.C. vacations usually involve a visit to their congress-men.

Daniels is in further hot water with members of Congress after telling The Wall Street Journal that “Their motto is, ‘Don’t just stand there, spend something.’ This is the only way they feel relevant.” Daniels’s relations with Congress are so frayed that the Los Angeles Times reports Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, won’t even return Daniels’s calls. Asked what the OMB director could do to patch things up with Congress, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) snapped, “Go back to Indiana.”

The White House hasn’t said whether this was part of its campaign to improve relations with Mexico, but People magazine recently named Vincente Fox “sexiest world leader.” But, then, Dick Cheney wasn’t holding his breath.

In December, Pat Robertson resigned as president of the Christian Coalition, citing a “renewed call to ministry.” But Washington City Paper columnist Dave McKenna suggests another reason for the departure: horse racing. A longtime racing aficionado, Robertson recently paid $520,000 for a Kentucky-bred colt he has named “Mr. Pat,” and is currently training for his racing debut. Robertson’s other horse, Tappat, has won more than $235,000 and a couple of stakes in his career. While Robertson has scored big at the tracks, his daily double of horses and heaven has run afoul of the Christian Coalition’s campaign against gambling. McKenna reports that the Christian Right had supported Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) proposed ban on Internet gambling until discovering that his bill included a special exemption for horse racing. Robertson continued to support the pro-racing anti-gambling bill, angering his fellow believers, who may not have minded when God asked Robertson to resign as Christian Coalition president.

If you’re wondering why The Washington Post has been ignoring your letters to the editor, it’s because reporters have stopped checking their mail. Since anthrax killed five people and ended up in New York and Florida newsrooms, the Post created a special hazmat mailroom, where employees now must don a mask and latex gloves before entering. All mail must be opened in the room and only essentials removed. The “stuffy and silent” mailroom has become such an unpopular place that one reporter confesses to having picked up her mail only twice since September 11.