Over the next few weeks, U.S. Rep. John Delaney and his fellow lawmakers are set to confront dwindling federal borrowing authority, the threat of a government shutdown and debate over automatic spending cuts.
It's not an easy lineup, especially in a Congress characterized by deep partisan divides.
But Delaney, the freshman Democrat from the 6th District, says he'd like to play the role of mediator amid the brewing financial battles. He said his first eight months in office have helped establish him as a cooler head who can work across the aisle to find common ground on complicated issues.
So far in his term, Delaney said he has had 90 meetings with Republican lawmakers in their offices. He said some of the GOP congressmen remarked that he was the first Democrat they'd seen walk through their doors. At the same time, he has risen to positions of leadership in his own party.
"I think I can play a constructive role within the Democratic caucus as someone who can be levelheaded about these things, and I think some of my Republican colleagues know that and look to me as a partner," Delaney said.
However, there's little time left for Congress to find middle ground on a number of major fiscal issues. Projections indicate the nation will run out of borrowing authority in mid-October. In addition, without congressional intervention, the government is on track to shut down Oct. 1.
Delaney said he thinks failure to raise the federal debt ceiling could imperil the nation's economy.
He said he does not believe Congress should use the approaching deadlines as an avenue for attack on the Affordable Care Act. The battle over health care reform has already been waged in the nation's courts; legislators shouldn't continue the challenge by attempting to defund Obamacare and risking a government shutdown in the process, he said.
"For the Republicans to re-litigate that issue and put the whole country's credit and government workers and programs at risk ... is a really disastrous move," he said.
While he views the health care act as off-topic for the current monetary discussions, he said this is a fitting time to talk about government spending and the effects of sequestration.
The problem lies not with the amount of money trimmed under the sequester, but with the way the funding reductions happened, he said. The cuts fell indiscriminately and should be redistributed to cause less pain.
He would take cuts to funding for food stamps, education and basic medical research off the table. Delaney said he generally thinks the government should be making larger investments in effective programs related to education, infrastructure and climate change.
Other areas should be examined for opportunities to trim spending, he said.
"Other forms of discretionary spending, defense spending and obviously, entitlement programs, that's where the action is," he said.
Delaney's reputation as a pragmatist results in part from the infrastructure bill that he introduced earlier this year, which has picked up supporters from both parties, he said.
The bill would allow businesses to transfer some of their overseas holdings to America tax-free as long as they buy infrastructure bonds. The bond money would feed an infrastructure bank, which would provide loans for improving everything from transportation to energy systems.
David E. Vogt III, who is hoping to claim the 6th District seat for Republicans in 2014, said Delaney likes to portray himself as a centrist, but his actions show otherwise. Vogt agrees with Delaney that the nation shouldn't risk going over the debt ceiling, but said congressional leaders need to end continued cycles of borrowing.
"If we're going to talk about increasing the debt ceiling, then in conjunction with that we need to pass a constitutional amendment to talk about a balanced budget," Vogt said.
Michael Powell, political science and history professor at Frederick Community College, said Delaney has voted often with his party, but that doesn't discount the congressman's efforts to reach across the aisle.
Delaney's background as a business owner could undergird his moderate perspective. His district could also be a factor, Powell said. The western Maryland district voted Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett into office 10 times before Delaney last year claimed the redistricted seat.
It's probably too soon to say whether Delaney has solidified his reputation as a centrist, Powell said. But despite his short time in office, Delaney could still play a key role in helping his colleagues find consensus, he added.
"Henry Clay was elected speaker of the House in his first term, and who would've thought that? In politics, you never know what's going to happen," Powell said.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.