Hoyer Lends a Hand in Crafting Debt Solution With Senators

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer is conducting shuttle diplomacy in search of a compromise with the Senate on the deficit spending issue that is delaying completion of Democrats’ year-end legislative package.

The Maryland Democrat has met with centrist Senate Democrats who are balking at voting for a debt limit increase unless it is coupled with creation of a commission that could send Congress deficit-reduction proposals. Lawmakers would not be permitted to ignore those proposals. Hoyer’s boss, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other liberal Democrats strongly oppose ceding to a commission any of Congress’ purse-string authority.

Hoyer’s counteroffer to the senators is a statutory pay-as-you-go mandate, backed by Pelosi and fiscally conservative House “Blue Dogs,” that would require offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases for any new spending or tax cuts. But the senators object to what they consider loopholes in the House plan — including exceptions for the cost of an estate tax reduction and repeal of scheduled reductions in Medicare payments.

Possible compromises include trimming the pay-as-you-go exceptions and enacting a short-term debt limit increase, thereby punting resolution of the dispute until next year. Hoyer said late Monday that he is focused on the latter, probably with an increase large enough to accommodate the Treasury’s needs through February.

Hoyer is often a bridge between the Blue Dogs and Pelosi’s largely liberal leadership team, while dealing with the Senate is normally Pelosi’s job. She coordinates legislative action and the party’s message during weekly meetings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But Hoyer has developed relationships with individual senators, including moderate Democrats who hold swing votes.

Hoyer’s current talks with senators resemble a task he took on for Pelosi last year, when he hosted negotiations with leaders of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and House Republicans on a proposal later enacted (PL 110-261) giving telecommunications companies immunity from liability lawsuits resulting from the government’s electronic eavesdropping.

The Senate centrists met Monday after conferring over the weekend with administration officials. Evan Bayh of Indiana said another session with Hoyer is expected this week. “Steny is a trusted broker,” Bayh said. “He is a serious person and a practical person. He’ll be one of the key people to getting an agreement between the House and Senate.”

But Hoyer brushed aside speculation that Senate centrists hope he will persuade Pelosi to accept the proposed debt commission. “I’m a House leadership guy, working with the Speaker,” he said.

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