Washington (CNSNews.com) - House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday, that he believes this session of the 106th Congress has ended on a "high note."
Reflecting on his tenure as Speaker of the House, an office he assumed last December, Hastert said, "Basically, we wanted to do about four things. One is to balance the budget. We wanted to not dip into the Social Security trust fund. We wanted to increase educational spending and educational flexibility back home."
Hastert added, "we wanted to give our men and women who serve in our armed services, the ability to get the job done also to have a living wage so that they don't have to go on food stamps to feed their families and to have the training and the equipment and the wherewithal to get the job done. We want to give a tax break to the American people. But we did not all the things we set out to do and I think we're ending today (Thursday) on a high note."
On the tax break, Hastert said, "We passed that legislation, the last one unfortunately, wasn't signed by the president."
Of other significant accomplishments by Congress this session Hastert said he was most pleased with a balanced budget that did not use any of the Social Security surplus. "We have balanced the budget. We haven't raised taxes and we haven't dipped into the Social Security trust fund," Hastert said.
"There is some extra spending out there that the president wanted," Hastert said, "that's part of the process. I said I wanted to send 13 individual appropriation bills down to the president, we did exactly that. He vetoed some of those bills but that's what the process is. In vetoing those bills, he laid out what his spending priorities or differences were. Today, (Thursday) I think we'll pass a bill the President will sign."
When asked by CNSNews.com if budget negotiating is more intensive than a wrestling match, Hastert replied, "It depends on what level the wrestling match is, the beginning trials or if its a state tournament. It's kind of a state tournament level."
"Our bottom line," according to Hastert, "is we're not breaking the budget, we're balancing the budget. It's the first time in a long, long time, we've been able to do that. It's the first time in 40 years that we really haven't dipped into Social Security trust funds to run government. This year, we haven't spend anything of the Social Security surplus and we paid down the debt."
Hastert said he believes not spending any of the Social Security surplus to balance the budget is a "huge turnaround in how this city (Washington) does business."
"We put," Hastert said, "$300 million more into education than the president asked for. We got flexibility that what we asked for. If the school district and the teacher program doesn't need the teachers, they can go and spend that money on bringing up the quality of education and the education of their teachers. They have the flexibility to move the money around the way they want to."
Also on education, Hastert said, "We wanted to make sure that more decisions were made in local school districts and decisions were made by teachers and parents and school districts and school boards and not the big bureaucracy in Washington."
Reflecting on his 16 years as a coach before entering politics, Hastert said being Speaker is like being in coaching in that "it's the final score that counts. When we look at the final score of this year, I think, we can hold our heads up and say we've done a good job," Hastert said.
One thing, Hastert says he's learned while being Speaker is to "not get trapped by questions that you don't have the right answer to." That drew laughs from reporters and staffers who were present.
On priorities for next year, Hastert said, "One of things that I have talked to the President a lot, we're going to do a community renewals program, what they (the Clinton administration) call "new markets". We'll have a minimum wage bill out as soon as we open up shop next year. We're going to do something on health care reform and try to start to put together those parameters now."
When asked about gun control legislation for next year, Hastert said, "We're going to see what happens with Juvenile Justice (bill), that's not dead yet. There are some good ideas in the Juvenile Justice bill that we have. We need to move that. And I think we still need to have good common sense gun control legislation that keeps handguns out of the hands of people that shouldn't have them."
Asked if the House next year will take a further initiative on ballistic missile defense, Hastert said, "We've taken the first step. We passed the Anti-Missile Defense bill this year. That was a pretty important landmark for us. One of the good things that happened, the initial tests showed that we can do what we said we wanted to do. I think that leaves the door open, that we can move forward, I think that's something that we owe the American people to be able protect ourselves from rogue nations that have the ability to lift nuclear capabilities with Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM's)."