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For Hoyer, a Balancing of Roles

"There are significant pressures to reduce infrastructure," he said. "We must be vigilant."

As minority whip, Hoyer plays a central role in maintaining unity and direction within the Democratic Party. But he said that role does not interfere with his work for the district: He has separate whip and Maryland staffs, with the latter dedicated to the district's issues, he said.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) counters his opponent's criticism that he's a "national Democrat."

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He said one of the most troubling federal issues is what to do about the nation's ballooning debt and shortfalls in Social Security programs.

"I think this is the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history," he said of the Bush administration's tax cut policies. "We have undermined our ability to invest in things that have a big payoff."

He said that although the United States recovered after large budget deficits were racked up in the 1980s, the recovery was not accomplished at a time, as is the case today, when the baby boom generation is nearing retirement.

"We have not done much this year," he said of Congress, citing a lack of bipartisan partnerships on Capitol Hill. He said Congress has not passed transportation or energy bills, both of which are needed in Southern Maryland.

Hoyer originally supported U.S. military action against Iraq with a goal of bringing about an independent democracy. But now he says President Bush has followed a faulty war plan. "I think the execution of the policy has been bad," he said. "It alienated our allies."

He said the president did not deploy enough troops to accomplish the mission and should have worked to garner U.N. support. He is also critical of the United Nations.

"The U.N. is a body that has shirked its own responsibility," he said. "Had the U.N. been willing to act in a multilateral way, the U.S. wouldn't have gone in as it did."

Hoyer has a personal connection to the services. His stepfather served in the Air Force -- it was the reason the family moved from New York to the Washington area when Hoyer was a high school sophomore.

Hoyer went to the University of Maryland in College Park, where he joined the ROTC and tried to volunteer for service but was rejected because of asthma, he said. He has three grown daughters, Susan, Stefany and Anne, and five grandchildren.

Hoyer -- whose parents made up his name from the Danish "Steen" -- says he's the only Steny he knows, except for a man he met in Milwaukee with the name "Stenerup."

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