By The Hill Staff - 11/21/06 12:00 AM EST
A party held in honor of a new House majority leader is bound to draw a crowd, and space was tight last week on the 10th floor of 101 Constitution Ave., where supporters of Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gathered to celebrate his victory over John Murtha (D-Pa.).
But party attendees said that it was more than just a chance for friends and would-be friends to show their allegiance to the man who will have broad authority to set the legislative agenda for the next Congress.
For lobbyists, many with clients nervous about what the Democratic Congress portends for their businesses, the party was a genuine celebration that the more familiar face had won.
“It was totally crowded, and it was festive,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “People were happy.”
“I think Steny is known in the lobbying industry as someone you can talk to,” said another.
Many of the happiest people at the celebration, to be sure, were members themselves, moving between the party on the 10th floor and one a floor below for new House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.
The bitter race for majority leader had opened up a rift in the caucus that interrupted the good mood engendered by the Democrats’ sweeping victories on Election Day.
Hoyer won the majority leader race by a vote of 149-86, even though Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had been nominated to be Speaker by acclamation at the same meeting, had lobbied on behalf of Murtha, an old ally.
An informal survey of lobbyists indicated that K Street seemed to favor Hoyer, too.
Unlike former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who was known to support oil and gas interests, the Maryland Democrat isn’t known for favoring a particular business interest.
Murtha, meanwhile, has been a powerful backer of the defense industry as a longtime member of the military spending panel. But Murtha’s area of expertise isn’t viewed as extending much beyond that, a number of lobbyists said. As a member of the leadership, Hoyer had to familiarize himself with more issues.
“We had a pretty good relationship with Hoyer. With Murtha, it would have been like studying all over again,” said another lobbyist.
And Hoyer gets credit on K Street for maintaining a dialogue with business groups, even if he hasn’t been a reliable pro-business vote.
“Steny has done 20 years of outreach, and Murtha hasn’t,” said another lobbyist and former House member.
Of course, the majority leader is only the second most powerful member of the House. The first, Speaker-to-be Pelosi, is not generally viewed as anti-business, despite often being pegged as a San Francisco liberal.
She has been a particularly strong supporter of the high-tech industry, for example, developing a well-received “innovator’s agenda” that included a number of Silicon Valley’s legislative priorities.
Some lobbyists were encouraged that she was among a group last week that voted in favor of a free trade bill with Vietnam, though the measure failed to win the two-thirds vote it required to pass.
Business lobbyists most point to Hoyer’s vote last year in favor of bankruptcy reform. Murtha also voted for that reform bill.
Pelosi did not, however, and the vote is one instance lobbyists suggest has contributed to the frayed relationship between the new Speaker and majority leader.
One lobbyist said the perceived tension between Hoyer and Pelosi could be viewed as a positive among business leaders, because it could lead to a more deliberative and less knee-jerk legislative process.
After the vote, both Pelosi and Hoyer pledged that the majority leader’s race would not damage party unity.
The victory celebration Thursday was the second event in a week in which Hoyer received a warm welcome. A week earlier, he received a standing ovation from lobbyists and members who attended an event sponsored by New Democrats, a group of centrist members of the party.
Hoyer had been an active campaigner and fundraiser on behalf of Democratic candidates. A majority of new members apparently voted for him.
Labor groups were the largest contributors to Hoyer’s political action committee, which contributed more than $600,000 to other federal candidates.
But healthcare, finance and insurance, and technology and communications companies also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hoyer’s PAC.
Murtha, too, raised significant sums from business interests. Defense companies were the largest contributors to his PAC, followed by labor groups. But Hoyer raised significantly more from other business sectors.
Defense lobbyists were also rooting for Hoyer, they told The Hill last week. That was so not because they feared what he might do; they just worried he wouldn’t be as active a supporter of their interests as a member of leadership.