House Speaker Dennis Hastert
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JIM LEHRER: And now to Speaker Hastert. A reminder that Margaret Warner taped this interview this afternoon at the Speaker’s office before the interview with Senator Daschle.
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for joining us, Speaker Hastert.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: It’s my pleasure. It’s great to be with you.
MARGARET WARNER: As we sit here in early afternoon, this Patient’s Bill of Rights looks like it’s a real cliffhanger. Where do you think we stand?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, you know, what we’ve tried to do is to find a reasonable ground. If we would have passed a bill, the basic bill that was out there before the president said he would have vetoed it – I think that’s not good for American patients, certainly not good for the American people. We tried to find a way to bring Dr. Norwood into an agreement with the president. That was able to happen yesterday.
We think that’s a good piece of legislation, and hopefully we can pass it on the floor of the House. The other alternative is to fight it and come up with a – Dr. Fletcher had a piece of legislation. But I’m not sure if we would have got that piece out of the Senate. So –
MARGARET WARNER: That was the one more to the president’s liking originally?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Right. But I think this is a good compromise. And I think it’s something that will be good for patients and good for healthcare in America. We’ve been working for a long time to try to bring this to fruition, so I feel positive about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, after the president and Norwood announced their deal, you sounded pretty confident that that would really be enough to bring enough both Democrats and Republicans over? Are you still as confident?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, you know, you never know what’s going to happen in a vote till you have it. But I think we’ll get some Democrats on it, hopefully, to come on. I think it’s the right thing to do. And I think we’ll get sufficient Republicans, but you never know until it happens.
MARGARET WARNER: How significant were the concessions that the president made – particularly on the right to sue, which was the big sticking point?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I think the president made some important concessions – one of them is to be able to sue in state court. And, you know, when somebody goes to their doctor, their doctor says they need a procedure, and their HMO says, no, that we’re not going to cover that procedure, then you go to the review board, and that’s the review panel that goes through this in an expedited manner, and they said, well, you know, you should have this panel; insurance companies should give you this type of coverage.
And they still say, no, the HMO says no; then you’re in state court immediately so that you get a redress on your grievance. And we think that’s the right thing to do. It also gives a leverage for bad actors to make sure that they give the healthcare that the review panel says it should have.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, some of the sponsors of the more stringent Senate bill, including Senator McCain said this morning, they still think this deal is too kind to the HMOs – those weren’t his exact words. But what realistic prospects does this version that you all have negotiated – even if it were to pass the House – really have of becoming law?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, first of all, it’s something that the president signed; that’s important. To move something out of here that the president couldn’t sign is not a positive movement. So now we go to — if we move this bill out, it goes to Conference; we have the Conference; we work out if there are problems and try to come to an agreement. The president says he wants a bill. He has been very able to work with people of – on the other side of the aisle and certainly hopefully we can work with Senator McCain to get a bill that he can sign that will actually become law.
This is the right thing to do for the American people. And what we’ve tried to do is get patients into hospitals, doctor’s offices, and not necessarily into – embroiled in the courts before they can get their healthcare.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday you had the vote on the energy bill, clear victory for you and the president. Just 48 – 72 hours earlier the setting was the president was going to have a little problem, certainly on the National Wildlife Refuge drilling, on fuel economy standards. What happened? How were you able to put together a coalition to get this thing passed?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, the coalition was there, always it was there. We just had to put it together, and I think we struck a balance between reason and what was doable and so I think it was a good logical way. It was a bipartisan effort. We had a lot of votes on the other side of the aisle on both those issues — what we can do to make this a better and safer world to live in as far as the environment and yet have the energy future that we could move this nation forward both on an economic basis and as an environmental basis. I think we struck a balance.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, some Republicans – moderate Republicans complained that they were being asked to vote for drilling in ANWR, even though the view is anyway it has no chance of ever getting through the Senate. I mean, there’s some Senate Democrats who just say they aren’t going to let that happen. Why was it important to you and the president to have that vote on ANWR anyway in the House?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, one of the things we’re trying to fight – is give ourselves the ability to be energy independent in this nation. When you become so involved in the Middle East or other areas and relying on those areas for energy, and you also become involved politically, we think we need to step back from that. We want to be able to at least do the exploration in this country to find out where energy resources are, so that we can do that in an environmentally sound, we think, way, and the ANWR vote was 2000 acres, which is maybe a couple of golf courses in a place the size of the state of South Carolina.
MARGARET WARNER: And much smaller than the president had asked for -
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Absolutely.
MARGARET WARNER: He had wanted 1.5 million acres, I think.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Right. So we thought that was a logical way to bring those – those reasonable forces together, enabled us to pass that bill.
MARGARET WARNER: These three dozen or so House moderates have caused problems for you and the president not only on Patient’s Bill of Rights, energy, campaign finance, other environmental votes. What’s the problem, as you see it?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, you know, I always say trying to run this Congress, and we only have a six-vote margin in the Congress. The last time that the Democrats were in control, they had 90 votes in their majority, so I always say this is like, you know, trying to drive a wide wagon down a narrow road. You go too much to the left, you’re in the ditch. You go too far to the right, you’re in a ditch. We’re trying to keep this thing in the middle all the time, so we’ll listen to everybody, and my biggest job is trying to bring moderates together, to bring conservatives together, so that we can have an agenda that works. And we try to do that every day here.
MARGARET WARNER: Some of the moderates say that the big problem is that the president is charting such a conservative course that they just – I’m thinking now about some moderates in the Northeast – they just can’t vote for some of this stuff. I mean, is he making your job a lot harder because of the positions he’s taking on some of these things?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I think the president has brought about very, very good leadership. I think when you look at the healthcare, it was his leadership to work with Charlie Norwood that gave us a good approach that’s workable, that we can get a signature on, and that we could make into law, that affects people’s lives and in a positive way. Education – you know – he went out and stuck his neck out and worked on both sides of the aisle and brought the moderates together. Conservatives weren’t all happy about that, but we work this way. It’s his leadership that was able to do that.
And, you know, today there’s millions of American families who are getting a paycheck or a tax rebate check in the mail because the president took the leadership and worked with both moderates and conservatives to get that done. So I think the president has shown good leadership in this thing in a very bipartisan way, and I think he’ll continue to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you – the House wouldn’t even be facing the Patient’s Bill of Rights this week if the Democrats in the Senate hadn’t sent it over and if the Democrats weren’t in control of the Senate. How much has Senator Jim Jeffords’ retirement – or not retirement – but leaving the Republican Party and putting the Democrats in charge of the Senate – how has that complicated your job as Speaker over here?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, it was our intent – we had a Patient Bill of Rights, and it wasn’t the Senate bill that they sent over; they haven’t sent a bill over. We had moved our own bill. It was our intent to do it. We always had talked that we had a huge debate within our Conference what was the right way to do it, what was the best way to do it, and with Charlie Norwood working with the president we were able to send a bill of our own to go to Conference so that we can conference with the Senate.
MARGARET WARNER: But the larger question, how much – do you feel – how much harder is it to have to work with Senator Daschle as Majority Leader?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I found Senator Daschle to be a very reasonable person, and I hope that we can work with him. We’ve moved a lot of legislation that the Senate hasn’t, because there have been changes, and they’ve worked with their new committees, and everything, so we’ve passed nine of our appropriation bills, and the Senate’s only passed about, I think, probably four. There’s a lot of things sitting there for us to try to work together on, and I think now that they certainly have their legs up underneath them, and I think we’ll be able to get things done, and I look forward to working with Senator Daschle and getting the positive things done for the American people.
MARGARET WARNER: Hasn’t it really increased both the focus on and the pressure on the House?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I mean, we’re the ones with the president that have to move that agenda and get it done, and we will do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel sometimes you’re playing defense?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: We really haven’t. When you look at the education bill that we’ve passed; we’ve passed the president’s faith-based initiative; we’ve passed the energy bill; we passed – as we speak – the healthcare bill for all Americans. That’s a pretty good agenda, and not many Congresses have had those types of achievements in the last decade or so, and I don’t think we’ve been playing defense. I think we’ve been pretty much on offense.
MARGARET WARNER: One final issue that I guess some of the House Republicans are trying to make trouble for you on is campaign finance reform, trying to bring it back, and they’ve got, I think, about 190 signatures to try to get this discharged, a petition to force it back on the floor. Do you think they’re going to succeed?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I don’t know. It’s their right to do that. They asked me to give them a date certain and get the bill out of committee at a certain time. We did that. We put time on the floor with them. They chose not to bring the bill forward by voting “no” on the rule, and I think there were some – not necessarily in our Conference but on the other side of the aisle – that really didn’t want to see that bill come forward at all, and by voting no on the rule, they didn’t have to face that vote.
MARGARET WARNER: It sounds to me as if you think they’re not going to succeed; that they really don’t have 218 votes to force you -
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I’m not making that call; I don’t know.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Speaker Hastert.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: My pleasure; great to be with you. Thank you very much.