Friday, January 05, 2007

More on Hoyer and Iraq

The day before yesterday, Hoyer was interviewed by Chris Matthews. The interview covered a number of subjects, and Hoyer came out looking OK but not great. The first part, though, was about Iraq, so I've made a rough transcript of that part of the interview, since I can't find one online. (CM and SH are Matthews and Hoyer.)
CM: The word is coming from the White House and the Pentagon that the President intends to send 20,000 more GIs to Baghdad. Will the Democrats stop him?

SH: Well, first of all we need to find out specifically what he wants to do with those troops. Almost every policy that they've pursued has not worked. I'm very skeptical personally of this so-called surge, as to whether or not it'll accomplish the objectives, and I'm not sure what the specific objectives are. So Chris, we're going to have that fleshed out a little bit, but I can tell you that Ike Skelton of the Armed Services Committee, Jack Murtha of the Appropraitaions Committee, are going to look very, very carefully at this proposal, and I'm going to want to talk to them about what their thoughts are.

CM: Can the Congress stop this surge if it wants to, if it decides to after deliberation?

SH: Well, I think possibly we could, at least we could vote on it. Whether we could we stop it, probably not, because it would have to be by statute, and the President obviously could veto that statute, and it's doubtful whether we could override a veto of that kind of a policy.

CM: Does the President need authorization to increase the complement of troops by 20,000?

SH: Yes, he does that, but he could get the 20,000 troops I think without that, he needs that, as a matter of fact many Democrats including myself have proposed an increase in our troop levels, we need that, we're using troops at such a rate that the present number does not suffice.

CM: What will it look like if the Democrats who were elected for change, and for a change in policy in Iraq, if the President looks you guys and you women in the eye and says 'not only am I not changing the policy, I'm not redeploying, I'm escalating,' and he gets away with it, won't that make your party look impotent?

SH: I don't think so, certainly in the short run. If we don't do something in the long run, yes. But again, Chris, we're going to be sworn in tomorrow, we're going to do our hundred hours, our six in '06, which we've said. Iraq has been a very complicated and unsuccessful, probably the most unsuccessful implementation of a foreign policy in my lifetime, perhaps in history. We're going to have to look at that, oversight hearings start next week by both Mr. Skelton and Mr. Murtha. So we're going to have to see what those oversight hearings result in, and we're going to have to see specifically what the President is recommending. We said that he ought to get rid of Rumsfeld, he's gotten rid of Rumsfeld, he's got a new Secretary of Defense who says we're not winning in Iraq. He's now coming forth with a, what he calls a change in policy, we'll have to see if in fact it is a change in policy. But the American public made it very clear they think that we're not winning in Iraq, they think we need to change policy, that we need to get our troops out of harm's way.

CM: You said you're very skeptical as to what the mission might be. Suppose the mission is to go door to door in Baghdad, kicking down doors, killing Iraqi insurgents, Sunni insurgents, inflicting casualties, taking casualties, right on the front line of this war, this very much sectarian war, would you accept such a mission for the 20,000 new soldiers?

SH: Chris, I don't want to speculate on what the mission is going to be, what you're doing. But I certainly want to make sure that, and I think the Congress is going to want to make sure, every member, hopefully Republican as well as Democrats, that whatever the President suggests, we think is reasonable and is possible to accomplish its objectives. That has not happened to date in this war, and there is going to be great skepticism about the President's proposal.
So Hoyer is skeptical of the "so-called surge," but even though the Iraq war is "probably the most unsuccessful implementation of a foreign policy in my lifetime, perhaps in history" and even though he says the President has not to date in this war put forward a reasonable plan that could accomplish its objectives, he's not willing to even venture a guess as to what the Democrats might do if Bush gives them more of the same. Murtha's and Skelton's committees will look at it, he'll talk to them, and we'll see what happens from there, he says.

This is why Hoyer drives me nuts at times, or at least a good part of it. If he didn't want to lead, why did he want to be Majority Leader?


Since I'm new at this, I hadn't noticed that Rep. Hoyer has two Congressional websites, one of which is his member-of-Congress website aimed at his constituents, That's the one I'd put in the links section when I opened this blog.

His second website, which is his website as Majority Leader (and formerly as Democratic whip, obviously, since its URL is, is likely the more interesting one. It's now in the links at right. I'll be back once I get a chance to see what's worth posting about.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Miscellaneous Ruminations on Hoyer

Most days on this blog won't be nearly as busy as yesterday. Just sayin'.

But there will be regular posting over the next few weeks. There'll be plenty to post about, as the new Congress, including its new House Majority Leader, gets busy. I'm gleefully rubbing my hands together in anticipation.

Meanwhile, just a few words about where I'm coming from. First of all, even though I've never met Rep. Hoyer, my feeling is that I like the guy. I'm sure he cultivates that sense of likability, and knows it's worth votes to him, but I find it effective even though I know it may be cultivated, and to some extent calculated.

Another thing is that he's clearly intelligent. I've heard him discuss issues in a 'live' setting - he used to go on the air on the Southern Maryland station Star 98.3 (back in the T-Bone and Heather days, for anyone who lives down thisaway) and while they mostly lobbed softballs at him, he clearly knew a great deal about Social Security and other issues, and just as clearly wasn't reading his answers off of index cards.

Third, Hoyer's clearly on the right side of things, from my perspective, on a core of fundamental issues of economic fairness, like the minimum wage, Social Security, and the estate tax. He is a real Democrat.

The problems I have with Hoyer are problems I frequently have with Dem Congresscritters whose political reflexes were formed in the 1980s. It was a time of much greater willingness to work across party lines, and of much less confrontation. Needless to say, right now we're in a time of much greater confrontation: the GOP doesn't care whose earth they scorch when they fight their battles. I wish it weren't the way it is - I thought 1980s-style politics worked pretty well, really - but you have to deal with the times you're in, not the times you'd like to live in. The GOP will fight clean where they can, and fight dirty the rest of the time, to make life difficult for the Dems. The only way to respond is to fight back.

The Dem advantage is that we can fight back with the truth. But we must be willing to hit hard and often with the truth, until we change the media narrative around the issues. Hoyer's much more of a backslapper than a fighter. Maybe there's a tougher, better fighter inside Hoyer than I see. I can hope.

The other thing from the 1980s is that, as the Washington Monthly piece I've linked to in previous posts points out, it was a time when the Dems figured out how to shake down the corporate/lobbying complex for money. The problem with that is, people who give you money really are going to expect a return on that money. It may not be an explicit "I contribute $2000 to your campaign, and you vote for my amendment to the Furshlugginer Bill" but it's there. Coziness with the lobbyists makes Dems vote a bit more like corporate conservatives than they otherwise would, and makes them vote less for the interests of their constituents.

So I'm not exactly happy about Hoyer's watered-down (thank goodness) K-Street Project. It never hurts to know what the business world wants, but they rarely have trouble getting heard as it is.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hoyer and Iraq

Finding out where Steny Hoyer now stands on Iraq isn't easy. There is very little of recent vintage on Iraq on his Congressional website. (By 'recent' I mean since the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. It's been more or less open civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs in Iraq since then.) Under "Issues" in his website, there is no "Iraq" category, just one for "Defense, National Security, and Veterans," where Hoyer has much to say about homeland security and the wellbeing of veterans, but little to say about the Iraq War.

A bit of Googling, though, turned up a video feature, "Talk to Power," on Yahoo! News, where Hoyer took questions on December 1, 2006 - just one month ago today. Hoyer was asked a question about Iraq, and I've transcribed his answer from the video:
Q. from Yahoo! reader: "No matter who or what is to blame, it's undeniable that we caused the mess in Iraq. Therefore we have a profound ethical obligation to the Iraqis to do all we can to clean it up. How can we morally consider abandoning them? Why are no politicans or pundits, Republican or Democratic, willing to talk about this? How can we expect to be considered a beacon of morality to the world if we don't clean up our messes?"

Rep. Hoyer: Iraq, obviously, is a[n] extraordinary challenge not just to the United States, not just to Iraqis, but to indeed the world. It is a global responsibility, not just a U.S. responsibility. Having said that, the questioner is correct: it was our initiation of action that has gotten Iraq to where it is today.

The fact is that I have advocated, and the Democratic party has advocated, not staying the course, but setting a new direction in Iraq. Staying the course, as the President has suggested, is clearly a policy that has not worked and is not working. The American people on November 7 made it very clear that they don't believe it's a policy that's working.

At the same time, however, we need to ensure that as we transition from the present, almost sole, responsibility of the U.S. armed forces for maintaining stability in Iraq, as we transition to Iraq responsibility for maintaining security and its own defense, that we do so in a way that provides for the opportunity for success in Iraq, of stabilizing that country, of making it secure and providing an environment in which minority rights can be protected and in which an economy can grow to provide jobs and quality of life for its people.

Ultimately, however, the Iraqis themselves must take responsibility for that accomplishment; it cannot be imposed upon them, either by the United States or by others. I have urged, and Democrats have urged, that the President, in talking to the Prime Minister, Mr. Maliki, make it clear to him that the United States in the near future - that may be six months, it may be a year - in the near future is going to be turning over primary responsibility to the Iraqis, redeploying our troops out of harm's way, and will work with international partners, both on a bilateral basis and on a multilateral basis, with neighboring states who themselves are concerned about stability in Iraq, to accomplish that stability. But the questioner is correct - the United States has a responsibility.

But I would suggest as well that the international community has a responsibility. After all, it was the international community that said Saddam Hussein had violated international law by invading Kuwait. It was the international community that fashioned the armed forces to force him out of Kuwait and back to Baghdad. It was the international community that imposed upon him conditions, and it was the United Nations unanimouisly determining that he hadn't complied with those conditions, that ultimately led to the action that we saw the United States and others take in 2003.
In terms of getting Hoyer's opinion on the war, this is as good as it gets right now - and it's pretty disappointing. It's hard to buy into his argument that the international community shares responsibility, when the world did what it did in Iraq at our urging. And overlooked in his final paragraph is the fact that the U.N. never authorized the U.S. to invade Iraq; that was our unilateral decision.

It's also hard, given the current situation, to give much credence to a veteran politician who says "as we transition to Iraq responsibility for maintaining security and its own defense, that we do so in a way that provides for the opportunity for success in Iraq, of stabilizing that country, of making it secure and providing an environment in which minority rights can be protected and in which an economy can grow to provide jobs and quality of life for its people." I mean, every kid would like a pony, but right now, even the prospects of stability look like a longshot. A growing economy and protection of minority rights are beyond hope in Iraq for the foreseeable future, and little we do, in terms of what we do whether in staying or going, can make those outcomes more than infinitesimally more likely.

But at least Hoyer does believe that, within the next 6-12 months, we should be redeploying our troops out of harm's way. He probably doesn't mean withdrawing them from Iraq (I'd assume he means to a combination of Kuwait and our "permanent bases," but that's strictly my assumption - he didn't say), but you take what you can get.

Rep. Steny Hoyer: Where Democrats will take America

The following piece by Rep. Hoyer was originally published in the Washington Examiner on November 16, 2006. I found it on his Congressional website. Thought I'd let the Congressman speak for himself.

Last week, millions of citizens all across America cast their ballots, voting to take our nation in a new direction and giving Democrats the House majority in the 110th Congress.

Democrats are deeply grateful for this vote of confidence by the American people and we are absolutely determined to help lead our nation and govern effectively over the next two years. The American people voted for change because the Republican Party’s policies — particularly in Iraq and on the economy — are failing. I intend to work closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass our “Six for ’06” agenda. We will work to enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and make our nation safer, raise the federal minimum wage, make prescription drugs more affordable, move our nation toward energy independence, cut college costs and restore fiscal responsibility.

Democrats are going to change the way things are done in Washington by restoring civility, honesty and integrity. We will stay true to our core values, but we intend to reach out to the president and congressional Republicans to work together to meet our country’s challenges. We must reject partisan bickering and replace confrontation with consensus.

Democrats will work in a bipartisan way to strengthen the middle class and protect the American homeland. We are committed to fully implementing all of the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. The fact is, five years after the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation’s ports, railways, and chemical and nuclear plants remain vulnerable to attack.

Real national security requires that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I have introduced the Program for Real Energy Security Act, a comprehensive energy bill that would constitute a major national effort to make substantial gains in technology, conservation and vehicle efficiency, and the use of alternative fuels. It has 126 co-sponsors.

It is time for America to engage in a Manhattan-style Project that brings government, business, and the science and environmental communities to the table to promote and expand alternative energy sources and make more efficient vehicles that burn cleaner fuels. Democrats believe energy independence is critical to our economic and national security, and to keeping our nation strong and secure into the future.

While strengthening national security is a critical priority, we must also improve economic security and help working families make ends meet.

While Republicans talk about a “great economy,” working-class Americans continue to be squeezed by the skyrocketing costs of health care, energy and college tuition. The minimum wage has not been increased since 1997, and findings from the Center for Economic and Policy Research show that the minimum wage is now at its lowest level in 50 years. Because of inflation, the failure to increase the minimum wage is not just a pay freeze, but a pay cut. If the minimum wage in 2006 was worth what it was in 1968, it would be $9.05 an hour — not $5.15.

Democrats will gradually raise the minimum wage from to $7.25 over two years, paying 6 million workers their fair share and allowing small businesses to make the necessary adjustments.

In addition, Democrats will make key improvements to Medicare Part D so that beneficiaries get the simple, affordable, and reliable prescription drug benefit they deserve. Our plan would require that Medicare leverage its bargaining power and negotiate lower prices so that seniors get a better deal. We would use the savings to help close the “doughnut hole” plaguing so many beneficiaries.

Another way to provide relief to working class Americans is to make college more affordable. In the past year, the Republican Congress has cut more than $12 billion in federal student aid, making college less accessible for millions of American families. Democrats will reduce interest rates, restore the Republican cuts on federal student aid, and expand existing programs such as Pell Grants to make college affordable for future generations.

Democrats will also restore common sense “pay as you go” rules that say any increase in spending or decrease in revenue, such as tax cuts, must be offset by decreases in spending elsewhere or increases in revenue. “Pay as you go” policies helped create four years of surpluses under President Clinton and can help reverse a projected $4 trillion deficit. Passing massive debts onto our children and grandchildren is simply immoral.

Democrats and Republicans have a historic opportunity to work together and help solve the complex problems facing our nation. As a member of the Democratic leadership team, I pledge to do all I can to help move our nation in a new, positive direction.

Can Hoyer Lead?

This is my biggest area of concern about Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader. He surely fits the historic job description quite well: being the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, making sure legislation gets drafted well, voted on, and passed. He's got the tools for that.

The problem is, we need more than that right now. The Democrats' Job One is to change the political dialogue, which has completely been on the GOP's issues, and completely on their terms, these past six years.

That's going to take leadership, not just inside the halls of Congress, but in the broader public sphere. And I worry that Hoyer's just not the man for it. I hope I'm wrong, but I just haven't seen much of that in him.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a constituent of Hoyer's has been that it's been next to impossible to find out where he stands on a bill before he's actually voted on it. Over and over again during the past two years, I've called up his office to find out where he stands on a bill before Congress, and I've never come across an instance where he's been willing to tip his hand before the vote. That's not leadership.

He's going to need to be the leader now: to be the guy saying to the TV cameras, "Here's what Democrats stand for on this issue," and rounding up the votes to make it happen. I'm waiting to see this side of Hoyer, and few will be more delighted than I if he rises to the occasion. But I'm not optimistic.

Hoyer's Voting Record in the Past Congress

Hoyer's voting record is, from the standpoint of this liberal Democrat, pretty good. Not perfect, but far better than most of his blogosphere critics would expect.

There were really only three significant votes in the 109th Congress where Hoyer let down the home team. He voted for Patriot Act reauthorization, he voted for the COPE Act that would have ended Net Neutrality, and most unfortunately, he voted for the Bankruptcy 'Reform' Act of 2005.

As the Washington Monthly piece said:

Hoyer’s April 2005 vote for the bankruptcy bill suggests a more fundamental problem. The legislation, a long-held priority of the credit-card industry, makes it more difficult for those in debt to get a fresh start by filing for bankruptcy. Pelosi at one point warned that the bill would turn hardworking Americans into “modern-day indentured servants,” and many Democrats saw the vote as a defining issue of economic justice, hoping to use it to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans and bolster their party’s appeal to working- and middle-class voters. That task was made all but impossible when Hoyer—who has received sizable contributions from the banking industry—and 72 other Democrats voted for the bill. At a whips’ meeting soon after, a furious Pelosi accused the bill’s Democratic supporters of selling out to special interests, while Hoyer defended them—and himself.

Hoyer noted to me that he had voted for the bill when it had come up several times in previous years, and said his decision was based on a belief in personal responsibility. “The argument that bankruptcies were becoming simply a way to excuse irresponsible behavior had validity to it,” he told me. “I believe that personal responsibility expectations are very important. No Child Left Behind, the accountability of students and teachers and parents and administrators to provide taxpayers their value ... The core value of personal responsibility is what I felt was manifested in the bankruptcy bill.” But Elizabeth Warren, an expert on bankruptcy at Harvard Law School, points out that 90 percent of families who file for bankruptcy do so after a job loss, a serious medical problem, a divorce, or a death. “What was the personal responsibility that they were missing?” Warren asks. “Was it that when Dad had chest pains and fell to the ground, he went to the emergency room rather than saying, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to pay for it’? ... Was it that when Mom got laid off from her job, she didn’t just hand over her keys to the landlord and move into a cardboard box on the street with her two children?” Warren, who was active in opposing the bill, says she spoke to members of Congress who, for months before the vote, were getting two or three personal visits a day from banking-industry lobbyists. “There were a lot of folks who succumbed to that,” she says.
I'd love to see someone put him in the spot by asking him Warren's questions.

The good news is that on the bankruptcy bill, as well as the other two measures, he voted for a motion to recommit in each case, and only voted for passage on the bill itself. In a Democratic Congress, he will have fewer opportunities, if you will, for voting for bad bills such as these; they won't make it to the floor in the first place.

I'm willing to give him a sorta pass on his vote for the COPE bill, despite being extremely passionate on the subject of preserving a neutral Net. At the time, even a lot of people in the thick of things were still being educated about net neutrality. On the face of it, the bill seemed to provide some goodies for TV-watching consumers, so it was hard to be against it without a good reason. He supported a net-neutrality amendment, then voted for the bill as a whole after the amendment failed. Probably the best we could have expected from him at the time. In the new Congress, though, we should expect more of him. It's hard to say where he'll come down, though.

On the good side of the ledger - and there's a LOT here - Hoyer voted against Class Action 'Reform,' against interfering in the Terry Schiavo case, against Estate Tax repeal (over and over again), against the Energy Bill (ditto), for Stem Cell research, against the extension of Bush tax cuts, against weakening the Endangered Species Act, against weakening pension (ERISA) protections, against the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act, and against the Military Commissions Act. He fought to keep the Dems in line on Social Security when Bush wanted to gut it, and can be counted on to strongly support a minimum wage hike.

Plus he was on the right side of several smaller bills you probably didn't hear of, and that wins serious points from me: it's easy for a Congresscritter to grandstand with popular positions on a few high-profile bills, then quietly cut the ground out from under his constituents' feet on complex bills that get little play in the press, because reporters often don't bother to take the time to find out what the stakes are. Hoyer's not like that.

Like I said earlier: he's not perfect, but he's really not bad. He drives me nuts on occasion with some of his stands, but if he's on any liberal's list of the Top 10 Democrats That Need a Primary Challenger, that person would be sorely mistaken.

The Establishmentarian (Washington Monthly Article)

This is an insightful piece about Hoyer that, besides providing a decent political bio of the man, gives a good idea of some of his strengths and weaknesses - concentrating on his weaknesses more than his strengths, but it's very worth reading. It concentrates on two aspects of Hoyer's nature - that of Hoyer as an old-school politician who may be a roadblock to reform of how politicians do things (focusing on lobbying reform in particular) and who is a bit overfriendly with the lobbying and business communities, hence more likely to see their side of things than the average Democrat.

An excerpt:

When lobbying reform resurfaced as an issue in Washington last year in the wake of the Abramoff scandal, congressional Democrats at first seized on it. They knew that Republicans, responding to the need to appear to be doing something, would put out a watered-down “reform” proposal that would do little to curb the outsized influence business lobbyists currently enjoy. By rallying around a far tougher platform of their own, Democrats hoped to burnish their party’s image with voters as an honest, responsive alternative to the GOP’s fealty to corporate interests. Emanuel, the DCCC chair, announced that he intended to make the issues raised by the Abramoff scandal the centerpiece of the Democratic effort to retake the House, and Pelosi struck a similar note.

But the Democrats’ hoped-for unity did not materialize, thanks in part to Hoyer. In the summer of 2005, Pelosi and a host of other Democrats co-sponsored a bill introduced by Emanuel and Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) that would have prohibited lobbyists from paying for members’ non-campaign-related travel, required members to disclose all congressional trips, and increased penalties for violations of lobbying disclosure laws, among other steps. But Hoyer announced that he preferred an approach that addressed misconduct by individual members, rather than cracking down on the activities of lobbyists—and pointedly did not co-sponsor the measure (though he did endorse it). Ultimately, Hoyer did come around to supporting another strong proposal that Pelosi announced in January 2006, but even here, his heart didn’t seem to be in it: He was the only Democrat in a leadership position in either chamber to miss the package’s press rollout event. And that same week he was still expressing a reluctance to crack down. “It is not the rules that are the issue, it’s the character of the players,” he told Bloomberg News.

More broadly, Democrats have not made lobbying reform or congressional ethics central to their national message for the upcoming midterms, as Pelosi and Emanuel had indicated they would. There are several reasons for this: For one thing, most of the evidence suggests that voters care far more about Iraq and gas prices. But some Democratic insiders say another factor has been the unwillingness of certain members of the caucus to risk losing some of the perks of office, or to offend their corporate backers, by taking a strong stand in favor of reform. That position was no doubt strengthened by the presence in leadership of a politician with a record of publicly touting his close ties to K Street, and a stated reluctance to seriously tighten lobbying rules.

Welcome to Hoyerblog!

I'll be blogging here about Rep. Steny Hoyer, my representative in Congress, and more importantly, the new House Majority Leader.

Why a blog about one politician? Several reasons:

1) The 'market,' if you will, is moving in the direction of greater particularity. There's really no need whatsoever for one more blog covering the broad sweep of American politics; thousands of very good blogs are already covering that beat. There are also state politics blogs in every state. Maryland's got several; I'll put the ones I know about in the blogroll when I get a moment. There are even a growing number of county politics blogs.

So one next step seemed to be to cover individual politicians of note. Hoyer's been my Congressman for the past eight years; I've already been learning about him, and he's an interesting politician, or at least I find him so. And now he's a very important politician.

2) It suits my knowledge and interests. I'm a national-politics junkie, but I'm also quite interested in Steny Hoyer as a politician. There's a good intersection there. What I hope to do is make a valuable contribution by following Hoyer as a politician fairly closely, certainly more closely than anyone's doing right now.

3) If someone's going to do a blog about Hoyer, it should be someone like me. I'm a constituent, so I've got a close vantage point to view him from. I think he's a good but far from perfect Congressman in terms of the issues, so you'll neither get cheerleading nor equating of Hoyer with Lieberman here. But I've never been involved in Maryland politics, and I'm a relative newcomer even as an observer; I don't have loyalties that would distort my view.

Besides, it'll be fun. Hoyer's gonna be right in the thick of things as our national politics turns an interesting corner, starting later this week. Hop aboard, it should be a lively ride.