Dennis Hastert: 'Life went on' after last shutdown

As the federal government shutdown heads into its first weekend, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert reflected on the last time it happened — a three-week shutdown that lasted until early 1996.

The suburban Republican wasn't speaker at the time, but the tough 1998 election for Republicans that followed helped lead to his rise into the post.

“Life went on. It was the Christmas holiday,” Hastert said this week.

“You can cut a lot out of government without bothering people,” he said.

A handful of days in, the full impact of this shutdown remains to be seen. Thousands of federal employees in the Chicago area have been furloughed and are watching Washington to see when they might get paid next.

State services that depend on federal funding — like one that helps single mothers buy baby formula — have money to get by for a couple of weeks.

“People want the government to go because they think the government is a safety net,” Hastert said. “The other side of the coin is, there's people believe that this government has spent too much money, it's too big.”

“Those are two sides of the argument here, and basically, you've got to find a middle ground,” he said.

And Hastert said he wanted to be careful not to predict how this shutdown will play out. He said he learned as a wrestling coach it's much easier to play Monday-morning quarterback than predict the future.

His namesake rule

The unwritten legislative policy bearing his name — the “Hastert rule” — is talked about often in the current stalemate. The informal rule says the ruling party won't call votes on legislation opposed by a majority of its members. In this case, that includes a temporary budget fix that doesn't delay President Barack Obama's health care law.

Hastert told the National Journal that it was just a general concept he followed, not a hard-and-fast rule he coined.

“There is no Hastert rule, no,” he told the publication.

Republicans who control the House have stood by their attempts to use the budget vote to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year. Democrats argue leaving the health care law out of a spending plan would win enough votes to end the shutdown.

Hastert says Obama needs to agree to negotiate and give some ground in talks. He referred to his own efforts staying behind the scenes to find support.

“I was never a show horse,” Hastert said. “I was never on TV.”

On the stalemate

Hastert says the Affordable Care Act at the root of the federal budget stalemate is “terrible” but could be tough to stop.

“I think the health care law is terrible,” Hastert said.

“But it's the law, OK? And it's passed. And they're going breakneck speed to get it in place,” Hastert said. “And if you undo it, it's going to be a long ugly process to undo it. I don't think you're going to do it in one fell swoop. God bless them for what they're trying to do, but I think it's a big chunk.”

Getting complicated?

Could the bid of downstate agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland to get tax breaks from the state gum up other similar efforts?

Remember, some local lawmakers already were looking for tax benefits for the new corporation formed by the merger of DuPage County-based Office Max and Florida-based Office Depot.

When Sears Holdings Corp. made its bid for tax breaks a few years ago, the debate broadened as CME Group asked for different kinds of tax help. And the legislation that was eventually approved — after several delays — included more general tax changes for businesses and low-income people, too.

Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park says ADM and Office Max are pretty different. ADM has already said it wants to pull its headquarters from downstate Decatur and ruffled some feathers by asking for tax breaks after that.

The new Office Max and Office Depot company doesn't have a new CEO yet and hasn't caused controversy with lawmakers.

“I'm going to keep sticking with where I'm at,” said Cullerton, who's backing tax breaks for Office Max.

Who's backing whom?

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, is touting the backing of a handful of local GOP groups in his campaign for governor, including the Republican Women of Wheeling Township, the Palatine Township Republican organization known as TOPPER, and the Addison Township Republican Organization.

Heroin task force

Some local state lawmakers have been named to a task force that's supposed to find more ways to fight heroin use by young people, a problem that continues to trouble the suburbs.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat, is on the panel he carried legislation to create. Also in the group so far: Democratic state Sens. Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Julie Morrison of Deerfield, Democratic state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora and Republican state Rep. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale.

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Kirk Dillard
Tom Cullerton
Tom Cullerton
Kirk Dillard
Dennis Hastert
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