Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Steny Hoyer makes the rounds for aspiring Florida Democrats

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Steny Hoyer in St. Petersburg
  • Steny Hoyer in St. Petersburg
Steny Hoyer is one of the most powerful men in Washington, but still plays second fiddle in terms of leadership among House Democrats to Nancy Pelosi.

A decade ago, Hoyer lost a bitter fight to Pelosi for House Minority Whip, easing the way for the San Francisco Democrat to ultimately replace Dick Gephardt as the leader of the Democratic Caucus. When the Democrats took over the House in 2006, Pelosi made history by becoming the first female Speaker of the House.

But Hoyer carries a lot of power. He's a prolific fundraiser, and this week (another one under the John Boehner-led Congress that takes a week off every month) he's in Florida lending his considerable heft to congressional aspirants, such as Keith Fitzgerald, Patrick Murphy, and Wednesday morning in St. Petersburg, Jessica Ehrlich. Ehrlich is the first-time candidate hoping to become the Democratic nominee later this summer to challenge GOP institution Bill Young in the newly drawn Congressional District 13 that encompasses much of Pinellas County.

Hoyer dominated the sit-down discussion held with Ehrlich held at her local campaign office in St. Petersburg, where eight local seniors (all affiliated with local Democratic clubs) and state legislator Rick Kriseman sat in a tight circle listening to Hoyer defend the health care reform law, Social Security and Medicare, trotting out the familiar themes that most Democrats believe in.

So in essence you had a group of Democrats sitting around and agreeing with each other. Not exactly high drama, but how often do you get the Democratic House Whip in town?

"There is now a chasm difference between the two parties," Hoyer said in beginning the forum. "I call the Tea Party the me party. And I believe our party is the we party. And frankly I think our country is the 'we country.'"

Referring to the front page story in USA Today about how U.S. automakers are pushing their employees to work six-day weeks as well as overtime, he remarked, "We now see a revitalized auto industry, hiring people. And General Motors sold more cars last year than any other automobile manufacturer in the world....that's really the stark difference between the two parties, whether you're sounding retreat or charge. America needs to sound the charge."

Last week House Speaker John Boehner said he wanted Congress to take up the issue of the debt ceiling now, instead of waiting for the end of the year, when it will come up next. Last summer's debate resulted in the U.S. losing its credit rating according to one rating agency, something that Hoyer denounced on Wednesday.

"We took the country to the brink of default — an extraordinarily irresponsible thing to do," he said with evident disdain.

Hoyer says Boehner wants to cut as much spending as it will take to raise the debt later this year, but said there aren't enough Republicans to go along with that attitude. "Politically it would not be viable. And from an economic standpoint, it would tank the economy."

Hoyer also took a shot at the House for its failure to pass a highway bill, an issue that has created unease at local transit agencies like HART in Hillsborough County. "The U.S. Senate passed a highway bill with three quarters of the Senate. And we can't get a highway bill done. Because the House of Representatives, Republicans, are so deeply divided as a party themselves."

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