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Tag Archive: Dennis Hastert

Sunlight Really is a Pretty Darn Good Disinfectant.

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Speaking of Change Congress, I was reading Japhet Els' posting about earmarks and wanted to weigh in here. (I just joined the Change Congress Google Group and will post this there, too.)

First of all, it is always easier to identify the problem than to solve it, no matter which policy arena you are playing in. But in this case, it's even hard to identify the problem. Is it that lawmakers get to decide where to spend government money and the process is too subjective? (If not them, would a government bureaucrat know the needs of a district better?) Is it that the private financing of public elections corrupts public officials absolutely (or partially), and so we can't trust the spending of government money to them because they simply can't make unbiased decisions? (I kind of think the latter is a big part of the problem if not the whole of it.) Is it because some lawmakers have private investments in companies that might execute the contracts to perform the work designated by earmarks or that they make decisions to benefit their own personal holdings. (See Dennis Hastert.). It's probably all of the above and more. (See Bill Allison's frequent blog postings on earmarks.)

Second, proposals for reform have to be realistic. (Yes, they can be idealistic and realistic at the same time.) It is simply not realistic to propose to ban earmarks, I mean, someone has to decide which bridges and roads need to be fixed, which universities are doing great research and need to be supported, which community health clinics deserve government money, and yes too, how many new bombers we need. And while I understand that calling for an earmark ban is useful as an organizing vehicle, as policy it doesn't make a lot of sense. Who would decide how to spend the money? And even if you suspend my disbelief, a history of reform efforts show us that such a "ban" would most likely drive the spending underground and make it even hard to track how Congress spends taxpayer money. The money will get spent.

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Former Speaker Hastert Announces Retirement, Lauds Earmarks

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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.

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Preventing Last-Minute Lawmaking

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Over the weekend the Washington Post reported further on the contents of the omnibus package bill, the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. The bill, one of the last items passed of the 109th Congress, is representative of much that is wrong with the legislative process and in such serves as a perfect coda for a Congress that will be remembered as one of the worst.

The Post article tackles some last minute lawmaking by both Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). The two party leaders inserted rejected and opposed initiatives regarding public land sales and Medicare into the bill at the last second despite previously voiced opposition.

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Hastert’s Institutional Neglect

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Does it surprise anyone that Rep. Tom Reynolds', R-N.Y., chief of staff Kirk Fordham informed staff of a top House leadership member of Mark Foley's internet escapades back in 2004? After Fordham "resigned" his position as the chief of staff he admitted that, "...even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior." As I detailed yesterday nobody should be shocked by the fact that Dennis Hastert doesn't run a tight ship. In their book, The Broken Branch, congressional scholars Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann explain Hastert's actions in the Ethics Committee purge of 2005 thusly:

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Dennis Hastert’s History as Speaker

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The Mark Foley scandal has engulfed the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. Today the conservative Washington Times called for the Speaker’s resignation and Majority Leader John Boehner reiterated that Hastert had told him that the matter would be taken care of earlier this year. Hastert was once said to “take this laissez-faire attitude on things”. This is evident in the Foley case, but it is also clear from his history as Speaker. Hastert, not acting like a good coach, seems to let problems fester or he actively works to cover them up. It comes as no surprise that his stewardship of the House has come under fire due to the revelations of the Foley scandal.

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