WASHINGTON – It hasn’t been easy for Democrats in Congress since the so-called Republican revolution (search) in 1994 ended 40 years of Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives.
But Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer (search), in his role as official head-counter for House Democrats as the Minority Whip, is trying to make it look easy.
“He is very persuasive,” shared Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Democratic Caucus, a position Hoyer held from 1989 through 1994.
“I think Steny is a member’s member and that has helped him dramatically in his position as whip,” Menendez told Foxnews.com. “He goes out of his way for members of the caucus and that is necessary when you need the votes to go ahead on key issues.”
The House is split 228-205 with one Democratic-leaning independent. Republicans are in charge of directing committees, the agenda, timetables and focus.
Hoyer's job as minority whip (search) is to "whip" up support for favored legislation. It takes persistence, patience and a talent for convincing members with seemingly disparate interests to see the common benefit of a particular bill. But for the last year or so, Hoyer has complained that the Republican grip on the parliamentary process has made it almost impossible to get Democratic alternatives to legislation heard and debate has been blocked on several occasions.
In June, Hoyer accused House Speaker Dennis Hastert of “one of the most cynical, arrogant displays of power that I have ever witnessed in this House,” in response to what Democrats called a sabotage of their child tax credit bill.
In November, Hoyer blamed Republican “arm-twisting” for changing the minds of Republicans and even some Democrats who had initially opposed the Medicare prescription drug bill (search). After a unique coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans were poised to kill the bill at 3 a.m. on Nov. 22, House GOP leaders kept voting open until 6 a.m., when they had enough votes to prevent it.
“Republicans have total control of Washington, and as a result, it is very difficult for Democrats to get our message out to the American people,” Hoyer told Foxnews.com.
Greg Crist, spokesman for House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, said the problem really lies with Democrats, who remain fractured on issues and unusually willing to spend critical time quibbling over procedure and process.
“I think Mr. Hoyer is in some respects struggling with the make-up of his caucus,” Crist said. “There’s no question that Mr. Hoyer has done his job well, but his party, the House Democrats, are still fractured on many issues.”
Democratic leadership, however, is happy to tell observers that the party is more unified than ever.
“We’ve had the greatest degree of unity in modern times among Democrats,” Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told Foxnews.com. “Steny has worked very hard at that.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called Hoyer’s work as whip “magnificent,” concurred that there has been the best unity among Democratic since the 1960s.
“Steny has been instrumental in making that happen,” she said.
But Republican Brad Jewitt (search), a Marine and ex-Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md., who is Hoyer's sole competition for the 5th Congressional District seat in November, said Hoyer’s dedication to the party is costing his constituents back home.
“He’s become more of an obstructionist in Congress than a representative of the district,” Jewitt said. “He has become a detriment. Hoyer can’t escape the party.”
Hoyer, elected to the House in 1981, serves a district that spans Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, plus a slice of Prince George’s County, all located between the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore metro areas. While Jewitt says the constituents back home are suffering as a result of Hoyer's leadership position, the Almanac of American Politics says Hoyer is well-known for his constituent services and ability to bring home the bacon in appropriations dealings. He is also regarded as a prolific fund-raiser.
In recent years, he has been credited with helping the clean up effort in Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore Harbor, and has seen to it that Maryland’s military facilities stay open and running well.
“There’s been no question he’s been extremely effective for the district as well as for Maryland,” Cardin said.
Hoyer has rarely bucked the party, save times like in 1995, when he voted for the balanced budget amendment. He gets high marks from liberal groups, low marks from conservative ones
He voted for authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq, but was criticized March 17 when the leadership led 93 Democrats to vote against a resolution marking the one-year anniversary of the war, complaining that Republicans were using it to lavish praise on Bush and Democrats were shut out of crafting the document.
In mid-March, standing against the backdrop of a giant balloon representing the expanding federal deficit under President Bush’s watch, Hoyer called on Democrats to take a stand against unruly spending and irresponsible tax cuts.
He and conservative Blue Dog (search) Democrats urged Republicans to curb spending in their 2005 budget proposals, and to think about rolling back the Bush tax cuts if they can’t find money for them elsewhere in the budget.
"It is time for House Republicans to deal honestly with the consequences of their failed policies,” he said at the press conference.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who considers himself as concerned about irresponsible budgets as the next lawmaker, said he nonetheless smells a tax-hike scheme.
“What they are trying to do is justify raising taxes,” Neugebauer told Foxnews.com.
Hoyer represents a heavily Democratic district, and has won his last several re-elections handily. Jewitt said even with the odds against him, he is serious about his challenge.
“You’ve got to throw the conventional wisdom out the door,” he said. “We’ve been shortchanged and its time for a change.”
Meanwhile, Hoyer says Democrats will continue to push to modify the newly-passed drug benefit for seniors, increase education funding and propose sensible tax cuts.
“Democrats are putting forward a positive agenda for America, and I think we will prevail in the November election,” he said.