Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. (14th CD), issued the following speech:
"Thank you, Nancy , for those gracious remarks. You have been an able leader for the Democratic Caucus in this House and you have helped lead this Congress with honor and distinction. We have disagreed on policy matters in the past, and I suspect we will disagree again in the future, but we both love this House of Representatives and the great democratic process of representative government. Nancy , we have some serious issues to confront in this new Congress and I look forward to a vigorous debate in the months ahead.
"For it is through debate, that we arrive at the policy decisions that will keep this nation safe and make it stronger. This House is where we fight the battle of ideas, and at the end of the day, we make the laws that govern this nation. And so it is a great honor to serve in this institution. It is a special honor to sit in this chair. I thank each of you for allowing me once again to serve as your Speaker.
"The New Year confronted us with two sad tragedies. First came the images from the tsunami that ravaged countries bordering the Indian Ocean . Our deepest condolences go to all those who lost loved ones in this terrible event. Just as former Presidents Clinton and Bush will join together to coordinate private relief efforts here in United States, we in the Congress will work together on a bipartisan basis to get the necessary relief to those in need.
"Second, we lost one of our own on New Year's Day. I want to pay tribute to our fallen colleague, Bob Matsui. Bob holds a special place in the hearts of Members on both sides of the aisle. He was a man of strong principle but a kind and gentle spirit. He was a proud Democrat, but he also knew how to reach across the aisle when the interests of his country demanded it. He will be greatly missed in this House and we are a better House of Representatives because he served here.
"Now let me welcome our new Members. We have 38 new Members, three of whom are returning after previous service here. Twenty-two of the new Members served in the state legislatures. Ten served in local government. For only the second time in the history of this House, this class includes a Member whose ancestry is from the world's largest democracy, the nation of India .
"This is a motivated and talented group who I believe will make a positive impact on the Congress for years to come. I will not spend a great deal of time in these remarks to give you new members advice, but I will say this, I hope that you will take time to get to know your colleagues - to find mentors in this great body. There is a lot of wisdom and experience in this place. Even as each of you bring a new and fresh perspective, there is also much to be learned from the past.
"Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Europe to participate in the ceremonies commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Our former colleague and Republican Leader, Bob Michel, accompanied me along with the Dean of this House, another distinguished veteran, John Dingell who will soon celebrate his 50th year in this body. I have learned much from these great men - in fact, I continue to learn from them. So new Members, seek out the Henry Hydes and the Charlie Rangels, the Bill Youngs and the John Lewis' and the many talented people who serve here. Get to know them and follow in their footsteps of distinguished service.
"As we open the doors to the 109th Congress, we close the doors to the 108th Congress. Those returning Members can look with pride at the accomplishments of the last Congress: Historic reform of the Medicare system that includes a prescription drug benefit for our seniors; Health Savings Accounts that give American consumers more power over their health care dollars; creation of the National Intelligence Director and a complete overhaul of our intelligence capabilities; tax relief that kept us out of a deep recession and that will propel us into better economic growth in the future. But there is still much work to do.
"'Make no little plans,' said Daniel Burnham, the architect who helped design the great city of Chicago . 'They have no magic to stir men's blood.' In this Congress, big plans will stir men's blood. The 109th Congress will be a Reform Congress. "
"We have big challenges that face this country, and we need big ideas to meet those challenges. Today, we must seize the initiative. Today, we must start anew the process of reforming the government. Security and prosperity only come with hard work and responsible government. Today, let us get to that hard work.
"First and foremost, we must make this country safe from those who would do us great harm. Each day, we are reminded of that monstrous attack on September 11th, 2001 , that killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens. And each day, this Congress has taken important steps to make this country safer from the terrorists who seek to attack us again. In the 107th Congress, we created the Department of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act and The Visa and Border Security Act. In the 108th Congress, we created the Director of National Intelligence. In this 109th Congress, we have to continue making progress.
"We need to strengthen our borders, reform our asylum laws, and improve national standards for driver's licenses. The terrorists who attacked us did so by exploiting gaps in our border security system, by abusing our immigration laws and by abusing the freedoms that every American takes for granted yet hold so dear. We must fill those gaps.
"As the Congress works to reform the Executive Branch, we must also work to reform our own Congressional oversight functions. In the 108th Congress, we created a Select Committee on Homeland Security. Today, in the Rules of the House that we will adopt shortly, I have proposed that we make Homeland Security a permanent standing committee. Better oversight of the Department of Homeland Security will lead to better security for all Americans. I urge that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle support this effort.
"As we secure the Homeland, we must do everything we can to support our troops around the world who are on the front lines fighting the war on terror. I am troubled by accounts that our soldiers don't have the equipment and the armor to protect themselves against roadside bombs in Iraq . This cannot stand. This Congress, on a bipartisan basis, will continue to provide the resources needed to take care of our fighting men and women! Protecting our Homeland and winning the War on Terror are critical components of making this country more secure.
"But long-term security means more than fighting the war on terror. It also means taking important steps to get our fiscal house in order. The President has laid out a bold reform agenda. We need to move aggressively on this reform agenda to protect our nation from a looming fiscal crisis. This Congress and its predecessors have a covenant with older Americans. We have repeatedly promised to keep Social Security strong so it is there to protect today's seniors and is available to our children and grandchildren. But to keep it safe, we need to make some important changes.
"If we wait too long, the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. And let me be clear: We can do this without changing the system for those who receive Social Security benefits now. As we strengthen the Social Security system, we also must start a national debate on completely overhauling our tax code. "In the last Congress a lot of words were spoken on this floor about jobs leaving our country - about outsourcing. This Congress must do everything in its power to protect American jobs and one thing that kills American jobs is our tax code. Let me say that again: Our tax code is killing jobs in America . It disadvantages those who produce here to sell overseas and gives great advantage to those who produce overseas to sell their products here. Our tax code is too complicated. It is too unfair. And it punishes job creators. It costs American taxpayers over $250 billion every year just to fill out their tax forms. America must have simpler tax code - one that makes sense for all Americans.
"As we debate the larger issues of reforming the tax code, we should keep in mind that increasing taxes just as the economy is getting its footing is simply wrong. This Republican majority will not raise taxes. We should continue to keep taxes low by making permanent the tax cuts we have passed in the 107th and the 108th Congresses. "I disagree with the position of some of my colleagues who believe that we should raise taxes to cut the deficit. The best way to close the deficit gap is to keep the economy growing as we control spending. I appreciate the hard work of the Appropriations Committee slowing the growth of discretionary spending. We need to keep that kind of fiscal discipline during this Congress.
"But we also need to take a look at entitlement spending. We must apply cost-saving technology to the government, to improve efficiency and cut down on waste, fraud and abuse. And as we look for ways to improve our nation's economic future, we can start by finally passing laws to stop lawsuit abuse.
"Most people know how abusive lawsuits have driven many doctors, especially Ob/Gyns, out of business. This is just one example of how lawsuit abuse hurts our citizens - particularly women and children. We have to bring common-sense to our legal process. Yes, there needs to be accountability for those who do harm, but abuses must be ended. That is why we must pass class-action reform this year!
"Another impediment to our continued economic prosperity is the volatile energy market. We passed an energy conference report out of the House last Congress, only to see it die in the other body. We need to finish the job this year.
"Finally, as we prepare our economy for the next fifty years, we must keep our transportation system on the cutting edge. Our roads, bridges and ports not only move people, they also move products - the products we make at home to sell abroad. To keep our products moving, we must finish work on the transportation bill early this year.
"As we move on this aggressive reform agenda, let us be ever mindful of our responsibilities as laid out in the Constitution. The Constitution begins by describing the Legislative Branch. Article I, Section I says that all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in Congress.
"The mission of the Congress, as laid out in the Constitution, is stark: Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. One hundred and nine times, newly elected Members of Congress have gathered together to be sworn in - to pledge a solemn oath to uphold that Constitution.
"The size of the delegations have increased, the numbers of constituents have multiplied, and the demands on the Members seem more complex than ever. But the basics of doing the job have never really changed. Those members who do best in this place are those who never lose sight of where they came from or whom they represent.
"My Congressional District lies in the heartland of America . My home is in the Fox River Valley , not the Potomac River . I want to thank my constituents in the 14th District of Illinois for giving me this opportunity to serve them again. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to represent these great Americans. And as I thank my constituents, I must also thank my most important constituent, my wife Jean - who by the way is the Speaker in our House! "Jean, thank you for your patience, your guidance, your sense of humor and your wonderful common sense.
"As elected representatives of the people, each of us shoulders a great burden of responsibility. Our families often bear the brunt of that burden. Let me thank all of the spouses and the children, many of whom are in the chamber today. Thank you for your sacrifices on behalf of the American people.
"As we begin this historic 109th Congress, let us also give thanks to our Creator for the blessings he has bestowed upon us. May God Bless this House and all who serve in it - and God Bless this Great Nation we call America .
"I now recognize my good friend and colleague, the Dean of the House of Representatives, the gentleman from Michigan , the Honorable John Dingell, who will administer the Oath of Office."