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  •   Hastert's Goals: Tax Cuts, More for Military, Schools

    Rep. Dennis Hastert answers reporters' questions during a news conference at his Batavia, Ill., district office Wednesday. (AP)
    By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 31, 1998; Page A6

    BATAVIA, Ill., Dec. 30 – Incoming House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) today pledged to seek tax cuts and a boost in defense and education spending next year, while promising to reach out to Democrats to devise a long-term solution to Social Security's problems.

    In his first formal news conference since locking up the votes this month to become speaker, Hastert offered a conservative agenda that differs little in substance from that pursued by House Republicans during the last Congress. While offering few details, he promised to move the House back to the nuts and bolts of legislating, following a tumultuous two months in which the president was impeached and the House speaker and his would-be successor resigned.

    "The most important thing is to restore the faith of the American people in the U.S. Congress and the faith of American people that the American government works," Hastert told reporters at his district office here. "We need to get to work."

    Hastert is essentially inheriting a legislative program developed by Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) as he was preparing to take over as speaker from Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) following the GOP's disappointing performance in the midterm elections. But Livingston himself this month announced his resignation after admitting marital infidelities, leaving the speakership to the little-known chief deputy whip from Illinois. Hastert, 56, will be formally installed when the 106th Congress convenes next week.

    Calling Social Security "the number one priority" for Congress this year, Hastert said he recognizes the need to work with the minority to shore up the program. "If we fix Social Security it's not going to be a Republican fix, it's not going to be a Democrat fix, it's going to have to be a bipartisan fix," he said.

    But he also drew some distinctions between the two parties. While President Clinton and House Democrats have proposed devoting all of the federal budget surplus to Social Security, Hastert suggested part of the surplus could fund initiatives such as tax cuts and defense. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the surplus could exceed a half-trillion dollars over the next five years.

    "We need to use part of that to make sure Social Security is secure," Hastert said. But he reiterated the GOP's intention to move beyond the $500-per-child tax credit for families scheduled to take effect in 1999.

    "We take more tax dollars from taxpayers today than ever in the history of the United States," he said. "We need to return some of those dollars back to the taxpayers so that they can spend their own money instead of having the bureaucrats spend it."

    Marking a sharp contrast with Gingrich, who had taken the lead on the question of reforming Social Security, Hastert said he would call on other lawmakers to develop the legislation that would steer the impending debate.

    "I'm going to rely on that talent," he said of his colleagues. "I hate to tell you this, but I don't know everything about everything."

    A high school government teacher for 16 years, Hastert also promised to provide more education funding to public and private school children alike.

    "When we talk about education we talk about education for all children, public and private," he said. "Every kid in this country needs to have a fair shake when it comes to education."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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