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Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert

December 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, welcome.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: The economic stimulus package that you all in the House passed early this morning was pronounced dead on arrival in the Senate. Did you expect that to happen?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: No, actually, I thought it was a shame because most of that stimulus package has been things that we had negotiated across the negotiation table. As you know, we passed an economic stimulus package several weeks ago. The Senate couldn’t pass one. So we put together a quasi-conference so that we could negotiate those issues. We didn’t have a success at that negotiation. So the president helped us. We brought in centrist Democrats and Republicans. They came forward on a proposal on healthcare. It was actually a Democrat proposal. Senator Breaux helped with that and others and put that on the table. That is what we passed in the House.

I thought, I knew for a fact if you had the votes in the Senate to pass the bill, we passed it in the House. It didn’t pass in the Senate and the consequences of that are you have literally hundreds of thousands of people in this country that lost jobs on September 11 that won’t have that added health in their unemployment insurance, won’t get the healthcare protection because they are unemployed that they could have had if we passed that bill. They won’t get the consumer confidence, extra money in peoples’ pocket, especially those who need it so that they can go out and buy things and know that the car payment will be made and the house payment will be made. We didn’t get the pieces in the bill that will give confidence in our market system.

Every American family that works has lost some value since September 11 in their wealth, in their savings plans, 401(k)’s, pension plans, mutual funds. They lost value. We need to get confidence and growth back in the markets. And, finally, there is 700,000 people that lost their jobs, and I’m sure it comforts some folks to have unemployment insurance but you know people want their jobs back. And the best way to create those jobs is to concentrate capital so that businesses will invest that capital, new buildings, new ideas and create those jobs, and that is what this bill did. We lost the opportunity to do that for the American people when the Senate refused to bring this bill up.

JIM LEHRER: Well, as I’m sure you know, Mr. Speaker, Senator Reed, the Democratic Whip, said what you did this morning was a charade. He said, “They knew, they know that it had no chance of passage over here.” And he suggests that you went ahead and did it anyhow so you could be able to say what you just said.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, Senator Reed is a Whip. I was a chief Deputy Whip in the House for a long time. Pretty simple math in the House. You had 48 Republicans that would support the bill. You had, I know, three Democrats. That is 51 votes. That bill would have passed if they would have brought it to the Senate floor, and I think a lot of other Senators would have joined with them. We passed it in the House. We passed it without a bipartisan basis, and I think Senator Reed in his heart knows that that the bill would have passed if they would have brought it to the floor.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see Senator Daschle, the Majority Leader, as the main culprit in this?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I mean maybe Senator Reed has his own reasons, but I don’t know what Senator Daschle’s reasons are or why he blocked this legislation, but I think it’s something that we needed in the country. I think that we have gone a long way in compromise. There are $30 billion, new dollars for people with unemployment. There is $13 billion that we put in there in healthcare. That was negotiated. That was a bipartisan basis that Senator Daschle’s people and our people sat together and actually negotiated out. There was no disagreement on that. The tax pieces were something that were negotiated out. The only difference in what they hung their hat on was the healthcare. The healthcare came from centrist Democrats in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: He also — as you know Senator Daschle says that your package, the Republican package that passed is… helps corporate interests too much; and he mentions the healthcare issue and other elements that are not in there that would help people who needed it the most, unemployed people.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I’ll tell you we had healthcare issues. We had people in the victims of New York disaster. We had unemployment insurance. All this was in the bill. And the things that they point at, the Republican things are things that came together, and I repeat it from centrists in the Senate — Democrats and Republicans, Senator Breaux, Senator Miller, Senator Nelson, Democrats that said this is the best way to do it.

JIM LEHRER: What should the American people make of all this? Remember after September 11-in fact, you were on our program shortly after September 11– with Democratic leaders — and all of you talked about, a new dawn here has come. There is going to be bipartisanship and cooperation in the wake of September 11. And now three months later this. What happened?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, Jim, I’m frustrated. I have to be honest with you — we try to do what is right for the American people. I’m a believer that we ought to have policy over politics, and you ought to get things done because I know when I go back home to Illinois and I live in Illinois. I don’t live here in Washington so I don’t read the Washington Post or the New York Times every day. I read our hometown papers. What people want is Congress to do something, to solve the problems out there, to do an honest endeavor to make the country better, and I think what happened here is a travesty. This doesn’t reflect on Senator Daschle and the Senate. It reflects on the whole Congress and that is a sad situation.

JIM LEHRER: Is it from your perspective, is this solely the fault of the Democrats in the Senate and Senator Daschle?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I didn’t quite hear what you said.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see this as solely the fault of Senator Daschle and the Democrats in the Senate?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: You know, I think it’s unfortunate. I’m not going to do any more finger-pointing. We need to get a stimulus package for the American people. There is other things that happened. I mean the Senate last night had been debating a farm bill that isn’t up until next year. They basically subsidize every cow in the United States, and they couldn’t pass the bill last night. They were doing that when we were trying to move other stuff. We haven’t got an energy package; we haven’t got a healthcare bill because Senator Daschle pulled it because of the interest of trial lawyers. So there is a lot of things we haven’t gotten. I’m not sure what all the facts are, but we need to get productivity from the American people.

JIM LEHRER: Well, it sounds to me like you got a serious problem with the way the Senate is operating right now.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: The House of Representatives and I work fairly close with Speaker or Leader Gephardt, and I as Speaker, we’ve produced a lot of stuff out of the House of Representatives, most of it in a bipartisan basis, and that stuff is just stalled. It’s languished. Even things for reinsurance. We can go on and rebuild our cities and build projects. That hasn’t come out of the Senate. Healthcare hasn’t come out of the Senate. Energy policy hasn’t come out of the Senate. TPA, or trade policy, hasn’t come out of the Senate. I can go on and on but it does get frustrating.

JIM LEHRER: Have you gone and presented this case just the way you did to me to Senator Daschle and said, hey, what is going on?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: We meet on a weekly basis with the president. We talk all the time. I walked over to Senator Daschle just yesterday and said, “You know, I think we’re gridlocked. It’s up to us to try to move the bill.” We have to move the bill first, according to law, Constitution, and we’re going to do it and I would hope that we have his cooperation. That didn’t happen.

JIM LEHRER: What did he say to you?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: He just said, “You are going to have to do what you have to do,” and we did it.

JIM LEHRER: You know, Congressman Armey, your number two, the House Majority Leader, said the others say that Senator Daschle has – that presidential politics are involved in all of this – that he’s decided to run against President Bush in the year 2004, and everything that he is doing is calibrated toward that. Do you see that the same way?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I think Dick Armey is certainly an economist and a political scientist, a professor. He may read that into those things. I haven’t made that decision yesterday.

JIM LEHRER: What about Vice President Cheney’s suggestion that Senator Daschle has become an obstructionist not only on the stimulus package, but he mentions also various nominations that are being held up in the Senate, et cetera?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I think Senator Daschle is in a tough position. All of us have to make sure that our conferences and our caucuses stay together. I think Senator Daschle has to play to an extreme group of radical left-wing Senators, a pocket full of them. And he needs to have them to keep his caucus together. Now I think he is hamstrung by these people who are extremists and won’t let this legislation go forward.

JIM LEHRER: Now Democrats would say just the opposite about you, that you are hamstrung by a pocket of right-wing extremists in your party in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay and others that force you to do certain things.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Jim, I think you have to look. We’ve passed legislation. We passed legislation with the unanimous help of both moderates and conservatives in the US House of Representatives and the Republican side. Most bills we’ve passed on a bipartisan basis and certainly aren’t reflective of any one extremist wing.

JIM LEHRER: The word “charade” that Senator Reed used has been used by others to characterize both what you, the Republicans, and they, the Democrats, are doing about stimulus packages, period because they say it’s pointless. I mean, it’s too late now. We don’t even need a stimulus package how. How do you answer that?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I’m not sure that we don’t need a stimulus package. I think I went through before and laid out why it was important and what we lose by not passing a stimulus package. I believe in my heart that it was the right thing to do. I believe we needed to take every bit of time, every ounce of effort down to the last minute to pass what was right for the American people and put it on, get it on to the House and put it on the Senate so they could pass it. You know, we did everything we could possibly do. You know, that is not a charade. I take my responsibilities as the Speaker of the House, and I think every elected member of the House of Representatives takes that responsibility. And we may disagree from time to time over policy or issues or politics, but I think when it comes to the welfare of this country, the reason that the House is acted because we thought it was the right thing to do.

JIM LEHRER: And the Senate has failed to act, and that is not in the interests of the American people.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think it’s unfortunate because when you don’t act, we don’t get things done and we don’t get results.

JIM LEHRER: What about Senator Daschle’s point, there was a Democratic stimulus plan that was proposed in the Senate, and no vote was ever allowed on it for procedural reasons because the Republicans wanted…

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I hate to get into this but let’s look at the facts. The Democrat stimulus plan gave subsidies to people who produce bison meat; it gave subsidies to people who try to create energy with chicken manure. I mean, that was a very… They were embarrassed to bring it up. They didn’t bring it across the floor because they were embarrassed to bring it across the floor – quite frankly, that is the fact.

JIM LEHRER: But when you say they were unwilling to compromise and make a deal, you were unwilling to accept their view of it as well, correct?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Jim, look at the package we moved to the House of Representatives last night was a product of compromise. We cut our tax rates. We cut the amount of things that we thought were important. We beefed up the unemployment insurance from about $8 billion to $30 billion. We increased healthcare from about $3 billion to $13 billion. We moved a lot in the bill, and the fix for healthcare didn’t come from Republicans. It came from centrist Democrats in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: You leave here on this holiday, your conscience is clear that it’s not your fault or the Republican’s fault that there is no stimulus package?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: My conscience is not clear. My job is to be Speaker of the House. My job is to move an agenda. We did move an agenda but we haven’t got results. And I feel remorse that we haven’t got the results that we need to get for the American people. I think it’s a travesty and I think it’s a shame.

JIM LEHRER: You think the president should call the Congress back and work on this again?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: The president is going to have to work to decide what he wants to do. But I think there is a lot of things we need to get done. There is a lot of unfinished business in the Senate that we started and hasn’t been finished in the Senate and we get… Need to get on with the work next session of Congress, and if he decides to bring us back we’ll do it.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. Happy holidays.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: My pleasure.