By Mike Lillis - 11/01/13 06:00 AM EDT
Rep. Steny Hoyer doesn't feel bad for Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner has struggled throughout this Congress to unite his splintered conference, but he's not going to get any sympathy from the House minority whip.
The Maryland Democrat said Boehner (R-Ohio) is getting his just desserts for helping to enlist the same Tea Party conservatives who have been a thorn in the Speaker's side.
"John Boehner was involved in recruiting most of these people," Hoyer said in a sit-down interview in the Capitol. "So, you're a little bit 'hoist on your own petard' if you recruit people who then, [when] you bring your alternative [bills] … they tell you, 'Sorry, I don't agree with you, and I'm not going to support that.'
On a long and growing list of proposals championed this year by GOP leaders — from spending bills to farm policy to aid for Hurricane Sandy — Boehner has faced a revolt from his right-most flank that's embarrassed the party and sent leaders scrambling back to the drawing board in search of alternatives that could win more conservative support.
In several cases, GOP leaders were forced to defy most of their conference and move proposals with Democrats providing a majority of the votes.
Hoyer told The Hill that he and Boehner have a good relationship, but the Maryland legislator also urged the Speaker to be more forceful in the face of the recalcitrant conservatives in future fights.
"I feel empathy for John. … I respect him, and I like him," Hoyer said. "But he has been unable to marshal the support for his own ideas, much less coming together on bipartisan ideas. And very frankly, Speaker Boehner's going to have to do that."
Boehner's office declined to comment for this story. But the 2014 budget negotiations, which launched this week, will provide a telling window into whether the Speaker will soften his post-shutdown negotiating tactics.
Those talks got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, when the leaders of the budget conference — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — sparred over whether new tax revenue should be a part of the package.
“If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere,” warned Ryan, who, like most House Republicans, opposes almost any hike in taxes that is not offset with tax cuts.
Hoyer warned that such staunch positions would sink the chances of reaching an agreement. He said Democrats are ready to accept certain Republican demands for the sake of a deal, but was quick to warn that Ryan and other Republicans must be prepared to make similar concessions.
"I think and hope that Paul Ryan understands that, in order to get to a reasonable, common-sense conclusion to this budget conference, he's going to need to compromise," he said.
Hoyer expressed a strong optimism that Democrats could buck the odds and, not only pick up seats in 2014, but retake the Speaker's gavel. The recent shutdown, which sunk the Republicans' approval ratings, only increases those chances, he said.
"We can win back the House in 2014. And said another way, I think the Republicans can lose the House in 2014," Hoyer said.
"The American people are fed up with gridlock. … They want people to come to Congress to work together to get things done," he said. "So … I think we're going to have a very, very good opportunity to win back the House."
Hoyer has long been critical of the entrenched partisanship that's practically defined Washington politics in recent years, and on Wednesday, he amplified those charges, calling the 113th Congress "the most ideological … in which I've served."
Still, the 74-year-old Hoyer, who seemingly hasn't aged much at all in the last decade, isn't ready to walk away despite being "disgusted" with the current political environment.
"It's a wonderful job. … I get to meet people from all walks of life," the 17-term lawmaker said.
Hoyer acknowledged that he's not enamored with every aspect of the position, particularly in this age of partisan stalemates.
"But you know what?" he said with a laugh. "That's probably true of almost everybody who works."