House Speaker Rips Presidential Hopefuls for Bush Tax Cut Fight

House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Monday blamed presidential hopefuls in the Senate for impeding President Bush's tax cut plan.

"I think one of the things is we're going into the time of presidential politics," Hastert, R-Ill., said after a lecture at Texas A&M University. "You have four or five people who I'll call the prancing ponies of the Senate that all want to be a presidential candidate, or a wannabe.

"It's to their advantage to not help this economy and have a bad economy going into a political year. I think it's shortsighted... I think it's politics, that's a lot of it."

Bush had asked Congress for $726 billion in cuts over 10 years but the House capped new cuts at $550 million. Hastert said the Senate had agreed with the House but "we learned later they had a wink and nod to limit it to 350."

"We're going to have to work and work vigorously for 550 (because) we think that's the number," Hastert said. "We came down from 726, but we think ($550 billion) is a number we can achieve and actually get some economic stimulus.

"I'm afraid if it's too light, the stimulus won't be there."

He predicted a drama unfolding over the next month or so between the administration and the House and Senate, where some Republicans have joined Democrats in balking at the Bush tax cut plan, as the focus shifts from the war in Iraq to a war on the economy. But said whatever shape the plan takes, the goal is to get money into the economy to spur hiring and investment and lift consumer confidence.

"There are some in Washington who say this plan is overly ambitious and they argue government should hold on to every dollar," Hastert told an audience of several hundred at the George Bush Presidential Library and School of Government. "We also find those are the same people who think big government is good and should spend money.

"With all due respect to the federal government -- and I work for it -- but government doesn't create anything. It doesn't drive the economy. It spends money. And what we should do is give some of that money back and put it back in the pockets of people who make it in the first place."

Hastert was introduced by the president's father, former President George Bush, who described him as "a leader who can get things done."

Hastert credited the elder Bush for the leadership that has led to more people "enjoying freedom today than any other time."

He recounted his rise from a high school English teacher and football and wrestling coach to Illinois legislator and congressman, then to House Speaker.

"I decided instead of trying to be on TV every day, what we needed was get Congress to work," he said.