House Democrats are looking many places for a message to carry the 2016 election cycle. One place they might find it is in Steny H. Hoyer's jobs agenda.
The Maryland Democrat and House minority whip has, for the past five years, been touting various iterations of his "Make It In America" economic platform, which packages together bills and legislative initiatives aimed at boosting domestic-employment opportunities. Typically, Hoyer's proposals have been focused on manufacturing and industrial sectors, with themes that resonate in blue-collar, working-class districts.
On Thursday, he will officially launch the next phase of his brainchild, an expanded "Make It In America" agenda he hopes will ultimately include jobs bills of the more nontraditional sense — that can play in Seattle as well as in Detroit, but which go back to the same bottom line: the Democratic Party will create jobs.
"Suburban districts, commuting districts, high-tech districts — you don't think of Silicon Valley as a manufacturing district," Hoyer told CQ Roll Call during a recent sit-down interview. "However, they create ideas every day. Now, you don't think of that as a product, but an idea that is produced ... can be commercialized and monetized.
"This is to broaden the perspective of what 'Make It In America' means," he said.
Hoyer said the next phase of the effort will involve conversations with job creators, employers, academics and think tanks, with a finished agenda ready for rollout hopefully before the year's end, in time for it to be useful on the stump.
It could be one response to concerns that, in the 2014 cycle, Democratic leaders and national party figureheads were pushing a "one-size fits all" message that couldn't be tailored to the idiosyncrasies of different districts.
Just like someone of the millennial generation, Hoyer, 76, is crowdsourcing the new, modernized agenda with messaging flexibility for a diverse political landscape.
On Thursday, he and fellow chief deputy whips will convene a hearing and take testimony from roughly 21 lawmakers on a variety of topics related to job creation and skills training.
Some presentations will be in keeping with the traditional thrust of the original incarnation of "Make It In America." Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., told CQ Roll Call she will be speaking about the local manufacturing sector in her district and the importance of the party building a national platform on the issue.
"Good policy is good politics," she said. "It's good for our country."
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., will talk about the "suburban economy," and Hoyer singled him out as a member yearning for a jobs agenda to take back to a constituency that, like Hoyer's, includes a large swath of federal workers.
"We need an agenda focused on economic growth, not economic grievance," Connolly plans to tell colleagues in prepared remarks provided early to CQ Roll Call. "Right now, neither party is focused on what could be called the 'suburban office economy' voter --- the middle class Americans who work for businesses in which their own economic success is linked to that of their employer ... Congress has not been speaking to these individuals for some time now, and that must change."
An entire panel will focus on "American innovation" of the less tangible variety, with testimonies about "fab labs," the "maker movement" and the "Internet of things" — concepts that are easily recognizable by people in those fields and significantly harder to define in layman terms.
Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., speaking on the maker movement and Internet of things, respectively, took stabs at laying out the concepts to CQ Roll Call.
Takano said the government should empower communities to establish "maker spaces," where, for a membership fee, inventors and entrepreneurs can have access to a workshop and materials to create prototypes for new products and technologies.
DelBene pointed to her own wristwatch as an example of a new technological universe where standalone devices can now be synced up to the Internet: It tells the time, measures her heart rate and tracks how far she runs.
"It's important to understand what's there today but also where things might be in the future as a result," she said, "and making sure policy doesn't stifle innovation but also that we have policy in place that supports it."
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., will talk Thursday about the "sharing economy," which refers broadly to the online exchange of goods and services, and barriers to creating startup businesses.
The integration of Polis's presentation into the eventual "Make It In America" agenda would be in keeping with what some House Democrats are already doing.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., at the start of the 114th Congress was charged by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to lead a young-voter outreach effort under the name "Future Forum." The 34-year-old, tech-savvy sophomore lawmaker has made it his mission to engage a new Democratic voter base by talking about the party's commitment to fostering opportunities in a burgeoning economic sector driven by ideas and creativity.
"My hope is that we as Democrats are able to talk to the next generation of Americans about how we can give them the skills they need to design the technologies here in America that are changing the way that goods and services are delivered to people," Swalwell said Wednesday. "I think owning that space is still up for grabs. I don't think either party has staked a claim in that area yet, in that space, the sharing economy space, and I think there's an opportunity for Democrats to be ahead of the curve on these emerging technologies."
Swalwell won't be testifying on the subject, but he said he intended to attend Thursday's event.