This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," May 12, 2005, that was edited for clarity.
With us now from Capitol Hill is the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (search), author of as well "Speaker: Lessons From 40 Years of Coaching and Politics."
Speaker, good to have you.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT, R-ILL., SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Neil, nice to be with you.
CAVUTO: Obviously not directly your purview, sir, but if you don't mind, whether the Bolton situation has cast such an ill will on Capitol Hill, regardless how it ultimately ends up in the full Senate, are you concerned?
HASTERT: Well, you know, those fights go on in the Senate all the time. And, of course, they've had a lot of discussions and battles on confirmations.
That world is not part of the House of Representatives, but, you know, that's part of the process. They have got to do it. And we want the best people to represent us. I think the administration has worked hard to put good people up. And I think they need to have their shot and get their people nominated and approved by the Senate.
CAVUTO: All right, but there has been so much attention, Mr. Speaker, on this whole issue and on the issue of judgeships and the filibuster and all that, that some of the things that you want to get done, like Social Security reform, looking at our tax code, a variety of other issues, are not getting done.
Are you worried that this boomerangs, ultimately, on your party?
HASTERT: Look it, what we've tried to do in the House of Representatives is move legislation.
I think the American people want to see Congress -- and I'm talking about the House and the Senate -- get things done. The Senate -- they have to do the judges. They have to do the presidential appointments. And, of course, my point of view over there is, the Democrats have been dragging their feet. It's been kind of a do-nothing, not-let-anything go, and that's to their advantage.
I think that boomerangs on the Democrats, because people want to see stuff done. They want to see the appointments. They want to see the government be able to work. They want to see the courts have the judges in them that need to run this place. And, you know, we need to move forward. And I think it's just a negative situation, when the Senate doesn't get that done, when somebody's being an obstructionist.
CAVUTO: Let me get a sense of Social Security, where a couple issues I want to touch on with you, Mr. Speaker.
CAVUTO: But, on that, there seems to be a different approach on the part of Senator Grassley on the Republican side in the Senate and what you're seeing with the House Ways and Means Committee, where they're looking for a wider role. And Bill Thomas has said, you know, throw Social Security in with a wider look at other retirement programs. Where do you stand in this debate?
HASTERT: Well, look, Bill Thomas is trying to put a lot of things on the table, which I really think we ought to do.
But you have to go back to the history of this. Social Security was created in 1935. In 1935, there were almost 50 workers for every retiree. The working retirement age was 65 years of age and the life expectancy was 62. Any actuary will tell you, that was a pretty good deal for the federal government. As a matter of fact, the New Deal, the CCC, the WPA, were all funded out of this revenue on Social Security.
Today, that pyramid has turned upside down, and there's more money going out than is coming in. You have to fix it. You have to make sure that seniors 10 and 15 and 20 years from now get what they were promised. And you also have to give some hope to younger workers that there's going to be something for them when they retire maybe 30 or 35 years from now.
So, I can't say that we're going to do A, B, C, or D, but we have to look at all those issues, put everything on the table and try to find some solutions to this big problem.
CAVUTO: Well, so far, sir, no common ground.
Charlie Rangel was saying to Bill Thomas yesterday, I play poker and I don't walk into any card game where they've got a stacked deck. So, Democrats seem to be saying, "no mas. We're out of this."
What do you make of that?
HASTERT: Well, you know, that's been the Democrat mantra all the way through. They don't want to work on Social Security. They don't want to move judges forward. They don't want to work do the presidential appointees.
And over here, it's interesting, because the Democrat leadership has been -- voted no on almost every piece of legislation we've had, energy bill, class-action reform, bankruptcy reform. But the bulk -- there's many, many Democrats who have come over, anywhere from 40 to 100, and voted with us on this legislation.
So, I think this is a bad situation for Democratic leadership. They're trying to move forward in this just say no, but their members, rank and file, aren't following with them.
CAVUTO: All right. What about raising the Social Security income threshold, presently at $90,000? Are you open to raising that?
HASTERT: Look, the president says everything is on the table. Bill Thomas says everything is on the able.
We have traditionally around here said, we don't want to raise taxes. You start to do this, it looks like, to me, that you're raising taxes. But we have to look at everything. We're willing to do that.
CAVUTO: I'm sorry, sir. Are you saying that that portion, raising the $90,000 threshold, is raising taxes?
HASTERT: Well, I would think that people are paying more out of their pocket. And in my personal opinion, it's a tax raise.
But, you know, I think we have to look at all these issues. We have to see what the final product is, because there's going to be pluses and minuses. People just have to win out of this and not lose.
CAVUTO: All right. This idea the president has to scale back benefits for the more well-to-do, some of the well-to-do have been letting us know, sir, that they don't much appreciate that. They think that you're taking this program toward essentially a welfare program. Are you?
HASTERT: Well, look it, we're not doing a welfare program.
We want to make sure that Social Security is fixed for those people who have had that promise and there's something in the future for our younger workers. And we're not about to do a welfare program.
CAVUTO: All right.
On the PBGC, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (search), as you know, United Airlines succeeded in getting some of its pension obligation shifted over to this government agency. It's $23 billion in the red, maybe, with all of this, close to $30 billion. What are you going to do?
HASTERT: Well, you know, I think we're at a pretty tough time.
I personally am very upset with what's happened with United Airlines. First of all, their base is Chicago, Illinois, my turf.
CAVUTO: Sure. Sure.
HASTERT: There's 10,000 United workers and they're all losing their pension.
From my perspective, this didn't have to happen. What should have happened is, the piece of legislation that we put into effect in 2001 and 2002 that gave airlines bridge financing should have happened. It should have happened with United Airlines. There were other airlines that didn't want to happen because they wanted to pick United's bones. And they lobbied against it.
The secretary to the Treasury denied that. It would have been a billion-dollar liability for the federal government. I think it would probably have made United whole and the federal government wouldn't have had to do this. But we're in it. And it's going to cost the federal government between $7 billion and $14 billion. I think that's backward thinking.
CAVUTO: Well, I think it's a moot point, as you say, sir. But now other companies, no doubt, in the airline industry, are going to look at that and say, hey, they got that off their books. Let's get it off our books. Other companies in other industries are going to say the same thing. Are you worried about a pension crisis in this country?
HASTERT: Oh, absolutely.
You know, when companies who have made a commitment and have legacy costs and all of a sudden want to walk away from that commitment and lay it on the federal government, that's a problem. It's a fiscal problem for us.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you. Some polls that have been done over the last few weeks, sir, have seemed to say that the Republicans might have gotten snookered by the Democrats, not only on this fixation on Bolton, but on going back to the Terri Schiavo situation, maybe with the best of intentions, sir.
Do you feel that your party's fixation on that was at the detriment of issues that Americans cared about, like Social Security, tax reform, that sort of stuff?
HASTERT: Well, I don't think so.
We came back in a special session on the Schiavo situation. The Congress wasn't in session. The House wasn't in session. The Senate wasn't in session. This was extra duty, so to speak.
HASTERT: So, we didn't take any time out of other issues.
The issue here was, a young lady was dying. She didn't have a terminal illness. That was an issue of a feeding tube and getting food and liquid. Her family didn't want her to die. Her husband wanted to pull the tube. And where do you make a mistake? Do you make a mistake on the side of a person's life or to let somebody die? It's a tough issue to make.
CAVUTO: So, you have no regrets with what your party did and how it handled it?
HASTERT: Not at all.
CAVUTO: OK. Just one final question on the state of the economy right now.
CAVUTO: The numbers seem good. The reaction in the market seems bad. Do you ever see a disconnect?
HASTERT: Well, you know, the market, there's other things, the cost of petroleum.
We passed an energy bill. We need to get that energy bill done in the Senate and done. That is not going to change prices tomorrow, but it's going to affect long term. We have done good things to create jobs. We have a highway bill that we passed here in the House.
CAVUTO: All right.
HASTERT: It's pending in the Senate. That will create millions of jobs in this country. We need to get that piece of work done.
CAVUTO: OK. OK.
HASTERT: So, we're working. I think we're on the right track.
CAVUTO: Mr. Speaker, a real pleasure having you on. Thank you very much.
HASTERT: My pleasure, Neil. Thank you.
CAVUTO: Denny Hastert, the speaker of the House of Representatives.
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