Press "Enter" to skip to content

Speaker Dennis Hastert’s Remarks After Being Sworn As Speaker

Dennis Hastert was sworn in as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives on January 6, 1999.

Hastert’s rise to the Speakership came amidst a series of dramatic events, including the impeachment of President Bill Clinton just three weeks earlier.

Hastert succeeded Robert Livingston, who stood aside over allegations of extramarital affairs. Livingston was Speaker-designate, chosen by the Republican Party after Newt Gingrich stood down following a poor showing in the mid-term congressional elections.

Remarks by Dennis Hastert, following his swearing-in as Speaker.

Thank you, Leader for your kind and thoughtful remarks.

HastertI’m going to break tradition, and at this point I am going to ask you to hold the gavel so that I may go down to the floor.

Customarily a new Speaker gives his first remarks from the Speaker’s chair.

And while I have great respect for the traditions of this House and this institution, I am breaking tradition this once because my legislative home is here on the floor with you, and so is my heart.

To you, the members of the 106th Congress, to my family, friends and constituents, I say thank you. This is not a job I sought, but it is one I embrace with determination and enthusiasm. In the next few minutes I will share with you how I plan to carry out the job you have given me.

But first, I think we need to take a moment, and I want to say goodbye to a member of this House who has made history. Newt, this institution has been forever transformed by your presence. For years to come, all Americans will benefit from the changes you have championed — a balanced budget, welfare reform, tax relief. In fact, this week families all over America are beginning to calculate their taxes and, to help them, they will find a child tax credit made possible by the Congress you led. Thank you, Newt. Good luck. And God bless you in your new endeavors.

Those of you here in this House know me, but Hastert is not exactly a household name across America, so our fellow citizens deserve to know who I am and what I’m going to do. What I am is a former high school teacher, a wrestling and football coach, small businessman and state legislator. For the last 12 years I have been a member of this House. I am indebted to the people of the 14th District of Illinois who continue to send me here to represent them.

I believe in limited Government, but when Government does act, it must be for the good of the people. Serving in this body is a privilege — it is not a right — and each of us was sent here to conduct the people’s business. And I intend to get down to business. That means formulating, debating and voting on legislation that addresses the problems the American people want solved.

In the turbulent days behind us, debate on the merits often gave way to personal attacks. Some here have felt slighted, insulted or ignored. That is wrong, and that will change.

Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another’s word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people. In short, I believe all of us — regardless of party — can respect one another, even as we fiercely disagree on particular issues.

Speaking of people who find ways to work together across the political fence, let me bring the analogy to a personal level. Two good Illinois friends of mine, George Ryan, the Republican Governor-elect, and Richard Daley, the Democratic Mayor of Chicago, are in the visitor’s gallery, and I’ll ask them to stand to be recognized.

Those who know me well will tell you I am true to my word. To me a commitment is a commitment. What you see and hear today is what you will see and hear tomorrow.

No one knows me better than my family. My wife, Jean, and our sons, Josh and Ethan, are here today. They are my reason for being. And Jean, she keeps me — helps me keep my feet on the ground. She and the boys are my daily reminder that home is on the Fox River, not the Potomac River. To Jean, Josh and Ethan, thank you for everything. I love you.

As a teacher, I explained the story of America year after year. I soon came to realize that it was a story, but a story that keeps changing, for we Americans are a restless people. We like to tackle and solve problems. And we are constantly renewing our nation — experimenting and creating new ways of doing things. I like to work against a backdrop of American basics: freedom, liberty, responsibility, opportunity. You can count on me to be a workhorse.

My experience as a football and wrestling coach taught me some other lessons that apply here. A good coach knows when to step back and let others shine in the spotlight. President Reagan for years had a plaque in his office that said it all: “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t mind who gets the credit.”

A good coach doesn’t rely on only a few star players. Everyone on the squad has something to offer. You never get to the finals without a well-rounded team. Above all, a coach worth his s hspace=10 vspace=5 align=left ALT will instill in his team a sense of fair play, camaraderie, respect for the game and for the opposition. Without those, victory is hollow, and defeat represents opportunities lost. I’ve found this to be true around here, too.

So, where do we go from here?

Some media pundits say that we’ll have two years of stalemate because the Republican majority is too small. Some say that a White House bent on revenge will not give us a moment’s peace. And some say the minority in this House will prevent passage of serious legislation so they can later claim this was a do-nothing Congress.

Washington is a town of rumors, guesses and speculation, so none of this comes as a surprise. But none of it needs to come true — that is, if we really respect the voters who sent us here.

To my Republican colleagues, I say: It is time to put forward the major elements of our legislative program. We will succeed or fail depending upon how sensible a program we offer.

To my Democratic colleagues, I say: I will meet you halfway, maybe more so on occasion, but cooperation is a two-way street, and I expect you to meet me halfway, too. The President and a number of Democrats here in the House have been saying it is time to address several issues head on. I’ll buy that, but I think we should agree that stalemate is not an option; solutions are.

To all my colleagues, I say: We must get our job done, and done now. We have an obligation to pass all the appropriation bills by this summer, and we will not leave this chamber until we do.

I intend to be a good listener, but I want to hear ideas and the debate that flows from them. I will have a low tolerance for campaign speeches masquerading as debate, whatever the source.

Our country faces four big challenges which we must address. And next — not next month, or next year, or the year after that, but now. Each challenge involves an element of our security.

First is retirement and he hspace=10 vspace=5 align=left ALTh security. Both our Social Security and Medicare programs will run into brick walls in a few years if we don’t do something about them now. We must make sure that Social Security is there for those who depend upon it and those who expect to. We must also consider options for younger workers so they can look forward to an even brighter retirement.

Nearly a year ago, President Clinton came here to give his State of the Union address. He called for reform of Social Security. This year, I invite him to return to give us his reform plan. He has my assurance that it will be taken seriously.

Second, we must insure a secure future for America’s children by insisting that every child has a good school in a safe, drug-free environment. In my 16 years as a teacher, I learned that most of the decisions having to do with education are best left to the people closest to the situation: parents, teachers and school board members. What should the Federal Government’s role be? It should be to see that as many education dollars as possible go directly to the classrooms, where they will do the most good.

Next is economic security. In the early 80’s, we adopted policies that laid the foundation for long-term growth. And except for one brief period, that growth has continued ever since. And we want our economy to keep right on growing. Well, toward that end, it is time for us in Congress to put a microscope to the ways the Government takes money from our fellow citizens and how it spends it.

There is a culture here in Washington that has grown unchallenged for too long. It combines three notions. One is that Government has a prior claim to the earnings of all Americans, as if they worked for the Government and not the other way around. Another notion is that a Government program, once begun, will never end. The third notion is that every program must grow with each passing year. Well, to borrow a musical line, it ain’t necessarily so. At least it won’t be as long as I’m around here and have anything to say about it. We must measure every dollar we spend by this criterion: Is it really necessary?

This is important. For most Americans, money doesn’t come easy. When I was a kid, to make ends meet, my dad had a feed business and he worked nights in a restaurant. My mom raised chickens and sold the eggs. When tax time came around, our family really felt it. What we need is a leaner, more efficient Government, along with tax policies that spur and sustain growth by giving tax relief to all working Americans.

Finally, there is the challenge of America’s security in a world of danger and uncertainty. Without it, the other elements of our security won’t be possible. And we no longer worry about Soviet nuclear bombs raining down on us. Today, there are different worries: the sudden violence of a terrorist bomb; the silent threat of biological weapons; or the rogue state that aims a deadly missile at one of our cities. We need a defense capability that matches these turn-of-the-century threats. We have asked the men and women of our armed forces to take on assignments in many corners of the earth. Yet, we have not given them the best equipment or preparation they need to match all those assignments. That must be corrected.

These are not Democratic or Republican issues. They are American issues. We should be able to reach agreement quickly on the goals. And yes, we will argue about the means, but if we are in earnest about our responsibilities, we will find common ground and get the job done. In the process, we will build the people’s faith in the United States Congress.

As a classroom teacher and coach I learned the value of brevity. I learned that it is work, not talk, that wins championships. In closing, I want you to know I am proud to have been chosen by you to be your Speaker. There is a big job ahead for all of us, so I ask that God bless this House as we move forward together.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024