Speaker-Designate Focuses on Tax Cuts, Social Security
Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, who is poised to become House speaker next week, exhorted fellow lawmakers Wednesday to “get to work” on cutting taxes and shoring up Social Security to win back the confidence of the public.
The six-term Illinois Republican, who emerged as the House GOP consensus candidate for the top job in the wake of Speaker-designate Bob Livingston’s withdrawal, offered few details of an agenda.
But in a brief meeting with reporters packed into his district office in this small Chicago suburb, Hastert called Social Security “the No. 1 priority” for the 106th Congress. Lawmakers should use part of the budget surplus to make sure the retirement system remains secure into the 21st century, he said.
The resignation of Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is effective when the new Congress convenes. Livingston (R-La.) withdrew after admitting extramarital affairs.
Hastert said Congress should end partisan bickering that has become more acute during the consideration of President Clinton’s impeachment.
“Quite frankly, to heal the wounds of Congress we need to get to work. We need to work together,” he said. “We need to start to achieve things. And I think that’s what will restore the American people’s faith in Congress.”
The Republican caucus is expected to formally anoint him as their speaker candidate Tuesday, followed by his election to the top post by the full House when the 106th Congress officially convenes a day later.
In discussing his hopes for the next Congress, Hastert suggested legislation granting more relief for taxpayers.
In September, House Republicans pushed through a five-year, $80-billion tax cut targeted mainly at middle-class relief.
Senate Democrats and Clinton were united in their opposition, mainly because the measure would have spent a portion of the $1.6-trillion budget surplus projected over the next decade instead of waiting until a Social Security solvency plan is ready. The Senate never took up the tax cut.
Without changes, Social Security is expected to run short of cash by 2032, after the huge baby boom generation retires.
Hastert said he plans to talk with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and other Republican leaders about Clinton’s impeachment trial, but he would not directly say whether the Senate should hear witnesses.
Hastert emphasized that he does not want his new high profile to completely change his low-key life, reminding reporters twice that he did not seek the speaker’s position.