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Gephardt, Hastert Ask Public to Prod Congress About Cliff

Anyone who’s lost hope that bipartisanship can thrive in Washington during the fiscal cliff standoff ought to look to K Street. And specifically Democrat Richard Gephardt and Republican Dennis Hastert.

Gephardt, the former House majority leader from Missouri, and Hastert, a former speaker from Illinois, have been on a road show of sorts, popping up on TV and penning op-eds together. If this was Hollywood, they’d have a composite name, such as Hashardt.

They say it’s part of an effort to drum up grass-roots support to pressure lawmakers and the White House not to hurl the country over the metaphorical precipice.

Gephardt, who admits that taking a vote to bypass the cliff will likely cost some lawmakers their jobs, said he and Hastert aren’t proposing policy ideas. Instead, they want to build cover for members of Congress.

“We know how hard this is,” said Gephardt, who operates Gephardt Government Affairs. “At the end of the day to get the votes, there has to be enough acceptance of what they’re doing by the public.”

Gephardt said he saw a role for himself, Hastert and other former congressional leaders, so he reached out to his former GOP colleague. Although Hastert works at the law and lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro, both men say they aren’t working on behalf of any clients and aren’t being paid for it.

“We’re both from the Midwest, we kind of see things alike,” Gephardt said of Hastert. “I always found him good to work with.”

The pair recruited a group of other leaders to sign a Washington Post op-ed stressing the need for compromise. They include other K Streeters such as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who is at Patton Boggs; Alston + Bird’s former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.; and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who is with DLA Piper; among others.

Gephardt said that he and the others hope to explain to the public that the underlying motivations for cutting spending or increasing revenue is to help the economy. “The truth is, no body wants to vote for any of this,” Gephardt said. “It is all politically toxic or poisonous.”

Politics, Hastert said, “is much more partisan now than when we, Mr. Gephardt and I, were in the Congress.”

Hastert said the excessive partisanship in Washington is due to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which prohibited large soft money donations going to the party committees. The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission decision has much of that unregulated money to be poured into outside political action committees.

“The extreme edges control the money and the politics,” Hastert said. But Gephardt said that going through the “worst economy since the Great Depression” has been a crucial factor in ratcheting up Hill partisanship.

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