Former Speaker Hastert Announces Retirement, Lauds Earmarks


Rep. Dennis Hastert announced today that he will not seek another term in Congress. In his farewell address on the steps of the old Kendall County courthouse, Hastert cited some of his accomplishments over more than 20 years in Congress. Here’s the text from Hastert’s Web site, with a few links I’ve provided:

Locally, we have invested in area hospitals and schools, making quality health care more accessible and improving education. From the city of Aurora to the Village of Prophetstown, we have provided Police and Fire First Responders with the resources they need to respond to crises and protect their residents. We worked directly with community residents to address local challenges such as the thorium cleanup in West Chicago**. We have advocated for local use of alternative fuel sources, like corn-based Ethanol and assisted Fermi National Laboratory in advancing its physics research. Our communities are among the fastest growing in the nation, so we have built roads and bridges, and expanded Metra service to avoid congestion and move people from place to place – benefiting our economy and protecting our quality of life.

It’s not clear that any of those earmarks (save for the Prairie Parkway) were actually the handiwork of the former speaker. In fact, the lack of transparency in the earmarking process will also be one of Hastert’s legacies–such preference for secrecy and unaccountability may well have contributed to the end of his tenure as speaker. It would be curious to see how many other accomplishments he cited were managed through earmarked appropriations.

**–Through the magic of Nexis, here’s an excerpt from an October 2, 1992, Chicago Tribune story: “The $40 million, which was approved by the conferees earlier this week, would come from a $310 million fund created by the legislation for the cleanup of thorium and uranium waste at mills, mines and processing facilities throughout the country. …The 43-acre West Chicago site is the second largest radioactive waste dump in the country and the only such repository in a residential area, said Scott Palmer, chief of staff for Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), whose district includes West Chicago. …Hastert added the provision to energy legislation in midsummer last year.” Not that there’s anything wrong with cleaning up nuclear waste–but are earmarks the best way to do it?

Also interesting to note the second graph, Hastert’s national–as opposed to local–impact:

Beyond the 14th Congressional District, we have worked to serve our nation and lead in the House of Representatives. We passed improvements that have quietly made a real difference in people’s lives: like eliminating the Social Security Earnings test and providing for Health Savings Accounts. We made the logical step of providing Medicare prescription drug coverage for senior citizens who desperately needed the assistance. Congress had talked for years about doing that in the past – we got it done. We repealed the “death tax.” We delivered the two largest tax cuts in American history because we trusted people to make their own decisions with their money.

These kinds of observations are far afield from my area of expertise, but doesn’t it seem odd that after spelling out the ways in which he directed taxpayer money — to local projects, to higher income retirees, for prescription drugs for all seniors — that Hastert goes on to say that “we trusted people to make their own decisions with their money”?