Skip to main content /transcript


House Speaker Talks About Patients Bill of Rights and Campaign Finance Reform

Aired July 7, 2001 - 17:30   ET


MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: I'm Mark Shields. Robert Novak and I will question the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.


NOVAK (voice-over): Congress convenes Monday after a week-long Fourth of July recess with attention returning to the Republican- controlled House after weeks of domination by the Senate, now under Democratic control.

This coming week the House takes up the Senate-passed McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill. Speaker Hastert and other Republican leaders are determined to substitute the bill sponsored by Congressman Bob Ney to limit, but not eliminate, soft money contributions.

REP. BOB NEY (R), OHIO: It allows advocacy groups, whether it's NOW or Right to Life, Gun Control, Inc. or NRA, it allows those groups to have freedom of speech, and that's a First Amendment right. The other bills really don't do that.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We believe that the Republican leadership wants to do with this bill what I think they will try to do with patients' bill of rights, and that is, if you can't beat it, then put it into an endless conference and kill it by not letting it come out of the conference.

NOVAK: Other difficult challenges facing the House Republicans are their efforts to supplant the Democratic-sponsored patients bill of rights passed by the Senate and trying to fit appropriations bills within President Bush's budget limits.

Dennis Hastert, a high school teacher and athletic coach until the age of 39, was elected to Congress in 1986 and is in his third year as the 51st Speaker of the House.


NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, how much effort are you going to put into an effort to derail the McCain-Feingold bill in the House and replace it with the Ney bill?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, I think the Ney bill will be a bill that certainly isn't constitutionally challenged, like the McCain bill is. I don't think McCain, if it goes to the Supreme Court, I don't think it will cover or muster that scrutiny.

I think the Ney bill is a good bill. It doesn't limit people -- interest groups putting money into state parties. The McCain bill basically guts the state party system. It limits the money coming into individual and individual campaigns.

But, you know, what the McCain bill does is just destroy the party system that we have in this country. And I don't think that's the intent of Congress, and I don't think that's a good outcome.

NOVAK: Not long ago, it was assumed that the Shays-Meehan bill, the House version of the McCain bill, would pass pretty easily. Give us a prediction: Which bill's going to pass?

HASTERT: I think it's close, Bob, right now, and I don't have a down-to-the-point whip count on it. But it's too close to call right now.

But one of the things is, it's a battle of ideas. You know, I think we could limit soft money and individual campaigns, but I think we also have to be able to go forward and not destroy the party system that we have in this country, too. The McCain bill, or the Shays bill, would prohibit the dollars going into state parties. That's how they run. I don't think we ought to be able to do that.

NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, last Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" you accused Senator John McCain of bullying some of the House members that he had campaigned for in 2000 by writing them a letter urging them, or pressing on them, to vote for his bill. He then replied as follows, and we'll put this up: "I'm just asking for their support. I'm neither trying to intimidate, threaten or coerce."

Since Senator McCain has said that, Mr. Speaker, do you want to withdraw from the word "bullying" in regard to Senator McCain?

HASTERT: Well, what the question was last week is that Senator McCain put out a letter to all our freshmen he campaigned for. He said, "If you don't support my bill, I'm going to do thus and so," and I think write to all the other people that ran against these members. I think that's a threat, and I don't think he ought to threat -- whether you're going to call it a threat or a bully or whatever.

I've known John McCain for a long time. We've done a lot of things together. But I think that was wrong, and I wrote him a letter and told him so.

SHIELDS: Mr. Speaker, on the subject of campaign fund-raising and reform, the last time this subject was before the House of Representatives you were chief deputy whip. You supported at that time an amendment by Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, fellow Republican, which banned all soft money at the federal level and banned federal officeholders from raising soft money in any way.

SHIELDS: Now, the Ney bill does just the opposite. Why the flip-flop? Why the change of position?

HASTERT: Well, I don't think that's a flip-flop. I think the Ney bill does ban a lot of the money coming into individual campaigns, but it also let's that money go out to state parties. And members of Congress can raise that money for the state parties if they wish.

That's party-building. That's getting people out to vote. It's building the voting rolls. And if you don't do that, then the special interest groups do it. And so you have a choice: Have the parties to it, or you really let that go completely to special interest groups.

SHIELDS: Well, Mr. Speaker, under the Ney bill, if I'm not mistaken, the wealthy individuals, corporations, labor can give up to $75,000 to each of the six party committees. That's $450,000 a year. That's $900,000 in a two-year cycle. I mean, is that reform?

HASTERT: Well, I tell you, that's not very much money in the whole scheme of things. And state parties need money to party-build, and I think that's something, whether you're in the city of Chicago or you're downstate Illinois or New York City or Houston, Texas, you need to build the parties and it takes money to do that. That's party advertising. That's party recruitment. That's getting candidates out. They ought to have the power to be able to do it.

SHIELDS: OK, last year during the 2000 campaign, your chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Tom Davis of Virginia, had this to say about John McCain. He said, "John McCain is the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. He could talk to independents and Democrats like nobody else."

Isn't it fair to say that, as of this day, John McCain's the most popular political figure in the country and that you hold your speakership in large part because of John McCain's efforts in the 2000 campaign?

HASTERT: Well, I think we hold our speakership because we had good candidates and we ran good campaigns. And I appreciate the help that John McCain gave to those individuals. I would hope he gave that help to the individuals because they are good candidates and they had a good message for the American people.

Our basis of returning a Republican majority to the Congress is on the deeds that we've done. And we've balanced the budget, we've paid down the debt, and we've given the American people a tax break, and that's exactly what we said we were going to do. And we're going to continue to do those types of things to keep the American people aware and hopefully to regain and keep the majority that we have in the House.

NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, The Washington Post in its lead story on Thursday morning reported there were 18,898 earmarks -- targeted expenditures by individual members of Congress -- in the spending bills making their way through Congress requested by House members. That would amount to $279 billion, almost the size of the Pentagon's annual budget.

Are you going to make an effort to try to get your Republicans to desist from these earmarked funds? And in fact, are you going to have any earmarks yourself in the budget?

HASTERT: Well, I believe in the regular order -- what I call "regular order" -- and that's going through the regular committees to authorize things and then to get them appropriated. You know, we have members putting projects in because some of those projects are important to members. And basically over the last six years when we've had the majority, we've had a Democrat president who didn't have the same priorities we did. So we think the Congress ought to lay out some of those priorities and get those things done.


HASTERT: But we're going to work with this president and try to work out, and I'd like to hold down earmarks. Obviously, we don't make all those earmarks happen, you know that. And we'll try to keep them to a minimum.

NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, with the administration predicting a $50 billion decrease in the size of the surplus for this fiscal year because of the economy and the tax cut, the Democrats in the Senate -- Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota -- proposing that you should either cut spending or increase revenue now to build back the surplus. What do you say to that?

HASTERT: Well, you know, increase revenue is tax increases, not tax cuts. You know, in the 1960s John F. Kennedy had a tax cut to spur the economy even when they were in deficit. In 1980, Ronald Reagan had a tax cut to spur the economy even though they were in deficit, to get that economy going again.

The worst thing we could do was to raise taxes at a time of a bad economy. I think some of our friends on the other side of the aisle would like to see us do that, to exacerbate the problem, but we're not going to do that.

SHIELDS: Mr. Speaker, the president has no greater strength than his own credibility, and President Bush is on record saying that any increase in spending greater than 4 percent in any individual appropriations bill he's going to veto. And yet two of the three that have already passed your House exceed that 4 percent hallmark that the president laid down. Are you going to advise the president to veto these bills?

HASTERT: Well, there's an exception and defense is an exception and education is an exception, because we've put some money -- a reserve aside to take care of those two issues. Also, Medicare reform, which we think will strengthen the Medicare trust fund and also offer pharmaceutical drugs. And we've set $300 billion aside over the next 10 years to take care of that problem.

We're going to work with the president. Our target is $661 billion -- that's what the budget is -- and none of those bills have exceeded their 302(b)s that we've set for those bills. So we're on target, and we'll work out the fine points when the time comes.

SHIELDS: OK, we have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask the speaker of the House about energy policy, job layoffs and stem cell research.


NOVAK: Speaker Dennis Hastert, your colleagues in the House Republican leadership -- Majority Leader Armey, Majority Whip DeLay, Conference Chairman J.C. Watts -- have sent a very strong letter to the White House, calling opposing stem cell research. Why didn't you sign that letter?

HASTERT: Well, what it was is it opposed federal funding for stem cell research.

NOVAK: Yes. Why didn't you sign that letter?

HASTERT: Yes, stem cells is tied into cloning. There's a lot of questions out there. I've asked the president to have Secretary Thompson come and talk to us and lay our what his plans are. I think they need to do that, and until they do that, I'm not going to sign a letter. I just want to see what their plans are and what their goals are. I think that's a prudent thing to do.

NOVAK: So you are undecided on the federal research for the...

HASTERT: No, I just want to see what his plans are. I've always opposed the whole issue of stem cell. But there's a lot of issues out there -- diabetes and Alzheimer's -- that could do this. You could do it with different types of cells -- blood from placenta, those types of things. I just need to see what the Thompson plan -- or what the Bush plan is before I go out and sign any letters.

SHIELDS: Mr. Speaker, on the matter of energy, the country is got it right at the top of its issues agenda, and yet the House has the matter before seven different committees, there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency about bringing an energy bill. When are you going to bring up an energy bill?

HASTERT: Well, we'll have an energy bill up this year, and in that bill, we'll be able to take a lot of different aspects. I mean, there's seven committees that have jurisdiction in the House on energy. And so, we need to look at the issues.

This energy problem didn't happen overnight. We find out, even in Illinois, when gas prices were supposed to be at $3, they're cheaper than they were last spring because of federal regulation. When you change the federal regulation, you start to ease up some of these problems. What we need to do is look at three phases: first of all, what we can do in the short term. We can do a lot of conservation. We can put in some of the technology that we have today to ease that problem. The next step is in the next two or two and a half years, there's new engines that we can put in automobiles, there's other types of technology that we can put in generating capacity. And then, in the long term, we have to decide a major issue, what we do as far as where we get our petroleum resources. Are we going to stay dependent on the Middle East? Because every time we put a dollar in the Middle East, in our energy resources there, we become more mired in Middle East politics. I think we ought to become more energy-independent and withdraw from foreign dependence on oil, and we need to find some of our own resources. And I think that's an important thing.

All those issues are going to be focused on. It's going to take a while to have that debate, and it's going to take a while to find the answers.

I don't think -- we certainly didn't get into this issue overnight. It took eight years. Secretary Richardson, Mr. Clinton's secretary of energy last year said, you know, they were caught sleeping at the wheel. We're not going to knee-jerk to try to find solutions. We got to find the right solutions and the long-term solutions will solve the problems.

SHIELDS: Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, when we talk about the United States being energy self-sufficient, as you just have, when we have 3 percent of the world's known reserves and OPEC has 76 percent of the world's known reserves, aren't we really kidding ourselves and shouldn't we be leaning on OPEC -- after we pulled their chestnuts out of a fire with 500,000 Americans to come up with some oil?

HASTERT: Well, every time we lean on OPEC, they have a price. And anytime they want to lean us, all they have to do is limit the supply, and limit the supply means increase costs for the United States. We need to find the technology and the resources to start to extricate ourselves from that quagmire of politics.

NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, the patients bill of rights, so called, passed by the Senate has a very high approval rating, according to the poll. If the Republican substitute, which you are supporting, does not pass the House and this Senate bill goes flying off to the president's desk, would you recommend that he veto this bill, despite its popularity?

HASTERT: Look, what we try to do is to try to put patients first. We want to get patients into hospitals, into doctors' offices, into emergency rooms. And what the other bill does, to a large extent, is get people into lawyer's office and the courtrooms before they ever get their health care.

We think that in some situations, that the patients ought to have the right to sue and they have the right to sue immediately. If you have an insurance company that your doctor says you need some specific care and that insurance company denies it, you can go immediately into an external review process that, within 72 hours, gives you a decision. And if the insurance company still says no, you can go into those courts immediately and get that type of care that you need. We think that's prudent. But to sue on every issue becomes a special-interest bill for providers and for trial lawyers. It'll drive up the cost of health care, and we'll see more people without health care than have it today. And that is the law of unintended consequences. That's not what we want to do.

SHIELDS: OK. Mr. Speaker, we have to take a break now.

And when we come back, Robert Novak and I will ask Speaker J. Dennis Hastert the "Big Question."


SHIELDS: The "Big Question" for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert:

Mr. Speaker, Robert Hanssen, FBI agent and American traitor whose treason led to the execution of American informants and CIA operatives, has worked out a plea bargain whereby he'll spend time in Allenwood and his family will get his pension. Now, with all respect for the Hanssen family, isn't this bad public policy, when a convicted traitor gets a federal pension?

HASTERT: I think that's bad prosecution and that's the deal that they made with the authorities. I think that's wrong-minded. I think that certainly doesn't serve justice in this country, and I think we ought to take a look at it.

NOVAK: Mr. Speaker, the government has reported this week that 114,000 additional jobs have been lost in the last month. The unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. Are we, the United States, in a manufacturing recession at the present time?

HASTERT: Bob, I think we need to do two things. We need to make permanent the tax cuts that we have passed in this country, so people will get that spurt in the economy and they know it's going to be long-lasting and not short-term.

I think the next thing, we need to go to war with our people who are our adversaries in Europe, especially the European Union. We need to be able to get our trade policies enacted. We've had 200 multilateral and bilateral trade agreements in this world in the last 10 years, and the United States has only been party to two of them. We need to give the president the power to go out and make markets for our products and create jobs in this country.

NOVAK: Speaker Hastert, thank you very much.

HASTERT: My pleasure.

NOVAK: Mark Shields and I will be back with a comment.


SHIELDS: Bob, last year, John McCain was the 911 number that 150 Republican House candidates called to help them out. But Denny Hastert now, the speaker of the House, says he's trying to bully Republicans into supporting the reform McCain has always been identified with.

NOVAK: Mark, the speaker threw back the ridiculous Democratic suggestion that we should have a tax increase since the budget surplus is only $200 billion for this year. But he also said we are in a manufacturing recession, we have to have a tougher trade posture with Europe.

SHIELDS: I'll say this on the matter of Robert Hanssen and the fact that this spy, this traitor, his family's going to get the federal pension, Speaker Denny Hastert was very critical and outspoken about that arrangement.

NOVAK: Mark, you and I have interviewed the speaker several times. I think he used to be, at the beginning, a little more tentative, but he is very assertive in his third year. He knows what his positions are, and he's a pretty tough advocate, I would think.

I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields.

NOVAK: Coming up in one-half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," the media coverage of the disappearance of Chandra Levy, and introducing "The New York Times" editorial page editor, Gail Collins.

And at 7 p.m., "CAPITAL GANG" tackles campaign finance and a new director of the FBI. Our newsmaker of the week: AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney.

SHIELDS: Thanks for joining us.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top