Dennis the Menace

Before we all drown in the current media gusher about how the latest GOP Speaker-to-be Dennis Hastert is "the grandfatherly coach" that Washington needs, the gentle "peacemaker from the plains," the "anti-Newt" godsend in a time of "raw partisan cannibalism," the self-effacing "healer," the "Great Compromiser and Conciliator," the "Consensus builder," etc., etc. -- let's at least pause to read a bit of the fine print on the guy.* Even though he had a non-race in the November election (his opponent raised less than $25,000), Hastert collected more than a million, mostly from Wall Street financiers, bankers, telecommunications giants, energy companies, health care corporations, and other special interests that have been able to count on his consistent and enthusiastic subservience to their needs on matters that come before his committees: Commerce (energy, health, environment, telecommunications, trade, etc.) and Government Oversight (natural resources, regulatory affairs, national security, trade, etc.).* He was a point man for pushing Newt's "Contract with America," and especially for defending HMOs and insurance companies from any serious consumer protections and regulations on behalf of us patients (for example, he was the chief negotiator trying to kill legislation giving moms a 2-day stay in the hospital with their newborn babies, rather than the 1-day-and-out rule mandated by HMOs).* Hastert has been a bulwark of the new Globaloney, actively supporting NAFTA in '93, GATT (which hung the WTO albatross around America's neck) in the lame-duck Congress of November '94, Fast Track in '97, and the Caribbean initiative in '97 and '98.* He opposed the miserly 90¢ increase in minimum wage in 1996, even though the increase still means full-time workers are paid about $4,000 less than the poverty level; yet he pushed hard in this same year to give the Pentagon (and its weapons contractors) $7 billion more than the generals themselves requested.* Hastert positions himself as a strict moralist in keeping with his evangelical Christianity, yet he opposes restrictions on the liberal flow of corrupt campaign contributions into American politics; he has supported legislation allowing lobbyists to continue giving junkets, gifts, and other freebies to members of Congress; he opposes requirements that lobbyists should at least disclose how much money they are taking from whom to do what; and he was front-and-center and eager-as-a-beaver to give himself and his colleagues a pay raise in 1997.* Among the stances taken by this "gentle grandfatherly figure" are to cut Medicare by $270 billion in order to pay for Newt's promised tax-breaks to the wealthy; allow oil corporations to get away with more pollution of our water; deny small shareholders the right to sue Wall Street firms that bilk them; and repeal the law requiring that food processors not put cancer-causing chemicals into their products.Anyone who enjoys the unanimous backing of Newt Gingrich, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, and Dick Armey (not to mention a gleeful K-Street corridor of corporate lobbyists) deserves a healthy dose of skeptical scrutiny, yet the media reaction is typified by the New York Times, which hailed Hastert yesterday as "a lumbering former high-school wrestling coach who brokers compromises and smooths out differences by bending ears, not breaking arms, without threats or rancor." How benign. But for whom does Dennis Hastert lumber, broker, and bend ears -- and at whose expense?


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