House Democratic Leader Steny H. Hoyer says that despite his party’s massive losses in last month’s congressional elections, history will prove the Democratic agenda is the correct path to lead the country out of its economic doldrums.
The lawmaker from Maryland, during a speech Monday at Washington’s National Press Club, also warned that Republican tactics that pushed the party to retake the House come January will leave a toxic legacy on Congress and the country.
“It’s easier to stir up culture wars and cultural resentment. All of those tactics have proved successful,” said Mr. Hoyer, hinting at the GOP’s embrace of the conservative “tea party” movement that helped sweep the party to power in the House. “But they’re also poisonous to our future.
“What a republic needs is leaders who are willing to look further, even if it costs them.”
Mr. Hoyer says Democrats in Congress the past two years were willing to sacrifice job security to take on politically unpopular measures, such as reforming the nation’s health care system. While the health care law has been blamed for contributing to the Democrats’ “shellacking” in the Nov. 2. elections, he vowed that in time history will vindicate the party.
To illustrate his point, Mr. Hoyer evoked the legacy of former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, Pennsylvania Democrat, whose 1994 midterm election defeat was blamed on her support of President Clinton’s budget a year earlier. The unpopular Clinton budget later proved successful, he said, helping create almost 23 million jobs and the biggest budget surplus in history.
“History proved Marjorie Margolies correct, but it cost her her seat,” he said. “I believe that history will say the same of so many of my colleagues in the 111th Congress who made political sacrifices to do what they believed was right.”
While those “sacrifices” cost dozens of Democratic lawmakers their jobs and resulted in the GOP securing a net gain of 63 House seats, House Democrats voted to keep their leadership team intact for the new Congress. Current Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California will return next month as House minority leader, with Mr. Hoyer serving as minority whip and Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina elected to the newly created position of assistant minority leader.
Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut retained his position as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Mr. Hoyer says angst about the economy and an unemployment rate near 10 percent — not the Democratic agenda — caused voters to turn against the party.
“When we look at last month’s elections, we see a great deal of anger and of fear — much of it warranted,” he said.
“America is not convinced that either party has all the answers,” he added. What the public really wants, he said, is for Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to shape a long-term strategy for the economy.
Yet voter anger can be a positive motivator if it pushes Congress to sincerely confront the country’s long-range problems, the Democrat said, but not if it pressures lawmakers “into two more years of zero-sum warfare in Washington.”
“Our form of government demands leaders who are fearful of losing the next election and therefore cognizant of the will of the people, but are not consumed or immobilized by that fear,” he said.
Mr. Hoyer conceded, though, that the two-year election cycle in the House is a strong temptation for lawmakers to shake.