Hoyer out of Pelosi’s shadow

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) over the past week has slammed ACORN, renewed his offer to negotiate with one of the GOP's chief Democratic antagonists and said that he could live without a public option in healthcare reform.

Each of Hoyer’s moves attracted headlines — which is unusual for a man who avoids making waves.

Seventy-five Democrats sided with the scandal-plagued ACORN on a funding measure last week, including eight committee chairmen and other Democratic leadership officials. But Hoyer was not among them, calling what ACORN employees did “despicable.”

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Hoyer this week also reached out publicly to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who earlier this year told The Hill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has refused his overtures to have a meeting.

Hoyer has stressed repeatedly, especially in recent days, that there is no daylight between him and Pelosi. While that claim has been debated in the halls of the House this fall, it is clear that he is stepping out of the Speaker’s long shadow.

He, in many ways, is the glue that keeps the House caucus together. And they have needed Hoyer over the last few months as the Republican base has awoken from its 5-year slumber, energized for the 2010 elections.

Since the beginning of the 111th Congress, some centrist and conservative Democrats have been troubled by signs that their leadership is intent on steamrolling them, if necessary.

Hoyer has been touting their case in Democratic leadership meetings, but he’s managed to do so in a way that does not diminish Pelosi, the clear driver of the policy agenda in the lower chamber.

Depending on the day and often the hour, House Democrats are either inching closer to a final bill on healthcare or are losing ground as factions in the Democratic Caucus continue to bicker.

Progressives seeking a public option have found that Pelosi is their loudest advocate. While other Democratic leaders would shrug if the public option were buried for good, Pelosi has intensified her fight for it.

Hoyer is for a public option, and will try to pass a bill that calls for one. But he has also let it be known publicly that he is most interested in the bottom line of passing healthcare reform legislation. In that way, his position is more in line with President Barack Obama’s than Pelosi’s.

As the public debate has worn on, Hoyer has done a lot of listening, a key facet of his job. And while his long association with the centrist wing of the party has earned him trust among right-leaning Democrats, progressives also praise the 70-year-old legislator.

“He’s a bridge builder and a pragmatist,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said.

In July, when seven members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition threatened to kill the healthcare bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee over the structure of the public option that liberals favored, Hoyer helped broker an agreement with Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Part of the agreement that Waxman reached with the Blue Dogs involved creating a public option that wasn’t tied to Medicare. Aides involved in those talks say Hoyer was instrumental in getting get both sides to coalesce around a public option based on negotiated rather than Medicare-determined rates.

The Blue Dogs were not shy about hiding their displeasure with Pelosi this week after Pelosi remarked publicly that there were 15 to 20 Blue Dogs who would support a public option based on Medicare.

But after a Thursday meeting, both sides said no damage was done and there was no need for criticism.

“There’s a genuine desire of everyone in leadership to sort of tamp down some of these tensions that get perpetuated within the caucus and stay focused on getting something positive for our constituents that’s affordable,” Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a Blue Dog leader, said after meeting Thursday afternoon with Democratic leaders.

Herseth Sandlin said Hoyer’s message was for all sides to “stay unentrenched.”

“My hunch is that the same message that was delivered to us to try to stay unentrenched is being delivered to other segments of the caucus,” she said.

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On Thursday, Hoyer was one of only five Democrats to vote against a non-controversial Medicare bill that passed 406-18. In his floor speech, Hoyer made a plea to his colleagues to deal with soaring entitlement costs.

Hoyer has endorsed legislation that would call on an independent commission to deal with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending. Pelosi has not, preferring to give her committee chairmen the ability to solve the fiscal problems facing the programs.

Mike Soraghan contributed to this article.