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Former Speaker Hastert Discusses Government Shutdown


Denny Hastert wasn't the Speaker of the U.S. House during the last government shutdown, but he was an Illinois Congressman in 1995 and '96. He told Amanda Vinicky this time is different.

Hastert says back then, Republicans were trying to get a handle on spending. He says it worked.

"We came out with a budget agreement, and because of that budget agreement the first three years that I was Speaker we able to pay down about $650 billion of public debt. You know, that was, that was, a good result out of that. It was something that was necessary and that's what we did," Hastert says.

Hastert says this is different. He says Washington has failed to reconcile a budget on time, and that causes a logjam.

"If you get in these type of pressure cooker situations it's artificial, because people made it happen," he says. "If you go regular process you would never had had it happen. In the eight years I was speaker we always went regular process."

Republican members of the U.S. House are refusing to pass a spending bill without a delay of the Affordable Care Act. Hastert says it's a wedge issue, but a relevant one to the budget, given the GOP's fear the new federal healthcare law is going to, as he put it, "spend us into oblivion."

As a Republican, it's logical that his short-term prescription for ending the stalemate heaps responsibility on President Barack Obama: "The President at least has to put something on the table, so that they begin to bargain."

Hastert's long-term idea for resolving Washington's problems is less obvious. It's not about the budget, and it's not related to the Affordable Care Act.

"You have to change the campaign system," he says.

Hastert, who represented Illinois' northwestern suburbs in Congress for two decades, blames D.C.'s gridlock on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Hastert says it took money away from parties, and instead drove contributions and candidates to the far right and the far left.

"And so I think that Congress has become much more polarized because of McCain-Feingold. When it become polarized, it's very much more difficult to find solutions to problems."

He says it won't happen overnight, but he says the federal government needs to change campaign finance laws to once again make the parties strong.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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