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Article updated: 10/19/2011 4:35 PM

Hastert: Politicians 'have to find compromise'

By Marco Santana

A former political leader who left Congress urging colleagues to trust each other and avoid a "pool of bitterness" said Wednesday that compromise has become a dirty word in Washington, D.C.

Former speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said politicians have "dug in a little bit more" on their positions than when he served. As a result, very little has gotten done.

"Anything you do, you have to find compromise," the Illinois Republican said from his Washington office. "If it's a 'just-say-no' attitude on both sides, then you are never going to get anything done."

Hastert said the political climate has changed dramatically since he left office Jan. 3, 2007, the last day of his 20-year career as representative, including nearly eight years as speaker.

"The tea party has brought an interesting dynamic to it," he said. "It has stiffened the back of people on opposite sides when, before, you had some people who would go along to get along. It has served an interesting function."

Hastert will be on a panel tackling the topic of fiscal imbalance, the mismatch between the government's responsibility to spend and its ability to increase revenue, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wheaton College's Barrows Auditorium, 500 College Ave. The panel also includes U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat; economist Andrew Biggs of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute; University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan; and Washington Post columnist and Wheaton College alum Michael Gerson as moderator.

Hastert said the topic is especially timely as the government considers what strategy to pursue as it tries to cut into a huge budget deficit.

However, Hastert said the August creation of the so-called supercommittee charged with finalizing that strategy was nothing more than Congress "kicking the can down the road."

"It's difficult because the nature of the supercommittee has the most liberal and most conservative people on it," he said. "I hope they can find a middle ground. But if everyone there digs in, they won't find the answer."

Hastert's connections to Wheaton College run deep. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the devoutly Christian school in 1964. After his resignation from Congress in 2007, Hastert turned over his congressional papers to the school and helped establish the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy.

The center represents a natural marriage of two aspects often mistakenly considered separate, Hastert said.

"The problem in education is that people look at the government as a silo, and the economy as a silo," he said. "But anything that happens in government has economic consequences and anything that happens in economics has government consequences. You need to meld those two departments together."

The center is the chief sponsor of the panel discussion and Hastert said the variety of political viewpoints will ensure a "lively and very good discussion."

"It's an educational function to get people to see that there are different ideas out there," he said. "This is a tough struggle."

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