The House of Representatives is not a meek institution. It can be fiercely partisan, rowdy and even arrogant.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is none of these things.
The majority leader is a statesman who settles fights, while many of his colleagues start them.
Republicans laud Hoyer’s bipartisanship while Hoyer’s Democratic colleagues praise their majority leader’s listening skills.
Hoyer listens a lot to the complaints of other Democrats. He settles disputes between committee chairmen. And he raises a ton of campaign cash to keep Democrats in the majority.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have lot on their plate. They are trying to fix the ailing economy while setting up a more rigorous financial regulatory structure. But the big goal this year is healthcare reform.
If Democrats pass it, no political expert will be able to say 2009 has been a legislative disappointment. If they don’t, the critics will be out in full force.
The Capitol Hill names usually associated with healthcare reform are Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), George Miller (D-Calif.) and Pete Stark (D-Calf.).
Don’t overlook Hoyer.
He needs to get powerful chairmen seeking to protect their committee turf on the same page. That is no easy task.
And Hoyer is in regular contact with Baucus now, so it is expected that he will play a major role in House-Senate negotiations on healthcare.
The 69-year-old lawmaker fended off an aggressive leadership battle against Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) after the 2006 elections and is now firmly entrenched as the Democrats’ No. 2 leader in the House.
In recent weeks, Hoyer has shown more boldness than he did in the last Congress. He told President Obama to back off from telling legislators how to reform the earmark process and has pushed his party to embrace the long-stalled Colombia trade deal.
Unlike other Democrats, Hoyer has been vocal in attempting to deal with the impending financial crush of entitlement spending. He has publicly endorsed a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on reform and have Congress vote on the advice.
Several House committee chairmen, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), do not support the legislation.
Without doubt, Hoyer is on the back nine of his political career. But in an interview with The Hill on Thursday, there was a look in his eyes that said: I love what I am doing. He has much left to do and his 28 years of experience in the House will serve Democrats well in the 111th Congress.