Hoyer: Voice of the Moderates

Posted November 12, 2009 at 10:33am

The voice of moderate and politically vulnerable Democrats in leadership, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spent much of the health care debate registering the substantive concerns and process gripes of centrists and communicating them to other top brass.

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hoyer spent June and July huddling with the different groups of the Caucus to map their priorities. But Hoyer’s particular focus was on the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, rural moderate Members nervous about the price and scope of the health care overhaul and the likelihood the House version would lurch left only to be wrenched back toward the center in conference talks with the Senate.

In late July, Hoyer stepped into the dispute between Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and seven Blue Dogs on that panel to broker the deal that got the measure out of committee. Three months later, Hoyer’s whipping of moderates helped reveal that leaders needed to preserve a key element of that compromise — a public insurance option that allows the federal government to negotiate reimbursement rates with health care providers — to gather enough votes for final passage. The provision made it into the bill over howls from liberals.

Throughout, Hoyer’s pragmatism cantilevered Pelosi’s at times ideological approach, though he stepped gingerly to minimize any public appearance of daylight between him and his one-time political rival. In conference talks, look for the No. 2 House Democrat to hammer on cost containment — a personal priority he holds in common with moderates that often got obscured in a debate focused on expanding coverage. And if liberals decide to abandon a conference report they feel has strayed too far from their ideal, it will fall to Hoyer to make up the difference by selling the package to enough of the 37 moderates who voted against final passage.