Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Establishmentarian New Majority Leader

A long interesting article on Steny Hoyer and his corporate ties, centrist positions and questionable commitment to Democratic core values.
As Hoyer points out, discord between the leader and the whip is nothing new, and previous leadership teams have overcome it to work together effectively. But 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?” ....

.... leaves only two plausible explanations for his decision: Either he favored the bill on the merits—which suggests a fundamental disharmony with his party’s core values—or he was doing a favor for corporate lobbyists. Or maybe both.

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