By Anna Palmer and Jessica Brady
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer is taking on the mantle of deal-maker in the Democratic Caucus, a role that will be highlighted in the upcoming debt limit fight.
Unlike past years, when the majority party alone delivered the votes necessary to raise the debt ceiling, this year passage is likely to require minority party support, and the Maryland Democrat will be tasked with rounding up dozens of Democratic lawmakers to get a deal through the House.
In an interview with Roll Call, Hoyer said he is “prepared to discuss with the Republicans, House, Senate and White House from my perspective what might be either included with or agreed to ... to ensure fiscal responsibility.”
But Hoyer underscored that he will not yield on Democratic principles during those discussions.
“If Republicans think Democrats are going to be intimidated or the debt limit is going to be held ransom for us to do something with which we do not agree, they’re wrong,” Hoyer said.
So far, Hoyer is getting praise from Democratic lawmakers who see him as filling a critical role as bridge builder in the House.
Rep. Peter Welch, a senior member of the Democratic whip team and strong advocate for a “clean” debt limit vote, said the Democratic Caucus would be well-served if more lawmakers were as willing as Hoyer to work across the aisle.
“We need more people with his practical approach for solving problems,” the Vermont Democrat said. “He is a consonant voice when it comes to a practical approach [and] when it comes to solving thorny problems.”
He already has begun to lay the groundwork with Republicans to broker an agreement on the debt limit, penning a letter in mid-April to Speaker John Boehner about his desire to work with the Ohio Republican, as long as House Republicans stay away from trying to force cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Congressional leaders have been invited to the White House for dinner today to begin discussing the debt limit and budget issues.
Hoyer’s increased public involvement on the debt limit comes after House Democrats were largely boxed out of high-level discussions to fund the government through September.
At the time of the vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she felt “no ownership” in helping the Speaker pass the continuing resolution that became less popular as Members learned more about it, but her No. 2, Hoyer, maintained that it was important to pass the legislation in order to keep the government working.
Still, the 15-term lawmaker said that he and Pelosi are working in concert to forward the Democratic agenda and that despite their divergent voting records, there is “not as much of a difference” as might appear. He said he and Pelosi believed the CR needed to pass, even though she voted against the package.
Hoyer led 81 Democrats to support the stopgap spending measure after it was clear that House Republicans could not muster 218 of their own Members to vote in favor of the package.
The Republicans’ reliance on Hoyer clearly boosted his confidence going into the debt limit debate.
“We have been relevant [in] that the government would have been shutdown relying on Republican votes in all three of the CRs,” Hoyer said. “They didn’t get 218 Republicans on any of them. I think we were not only relevant, we were critical to the outcome.”
Hoyer said part of his clout with Republicans derives from his previous position as Majority Leader when Democrats controlled the House. The midterm elections cost Democrats the majority and threw the party into turmoil, but its leadership team emerged intact. Hoyer became Minority Whip, but he retained some floor responsibilities that Minority Whips don’t usually have, such as handling unanimous consent agreements and suspension requests.
“I think I have very good relations with everybody in the Caucus, from right to left to the progressives,” the Maryland Democrat said. “I think that like all human relations, you have to work on it. The better you work on it, the better your relations are, the more opportunity you have to be successful when a crunch time comes on votes.”
Hoyer said he has also worked to solidify the Democratic Caucus, holding regular meetings with not only members of the leadership team, but also with caucus leaders and freshmen.
He has also kept up an aggressive fundraising clip, raising $503,000 during the first quarter of the year and an additional $67,500 so far in the second quarter, according to Hoyer aides. He has raised $255,300 for candidates and contributed $150,000 so far this cycle in dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
So far, Hoyer has been able to corral votes, keeping Democrats together on key issues, including opposing the House Republican health care repeal and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
The Wisconsin Republican’s budget sparked fireworks at town hall meetings during the spring recess. Ryan himself was heckled at some of his constituent meetings by voters who said his proposal deals too harshly with Medicare by converting it into a kind of voucher program.
Other Republican lawmakers heard similar protests — and also some support — from voters as they talked about Ryan’s dramatic plan to reshape federal spending. Democrats, meanwhile, sought to stoke anger with the plan by airing television ads declaring that Ryan was proposing the end of Medicare.
Despite the partisan tone that surfaces sometimes, Hoyer remains confident that his record in the House leaves him in good standing with Republicans.
“I think the fact that I was Majority Leader for four years probably has people look at me a little differently than just being Minority Whip,” Hoyer said. “I think during the time I was Majority Leader most Republicans found me as trying to be fair, trying to work with them, and I think this time there is residual benefit from that experience.”