Former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman died Monday night at the age of 82. He was considered a centrist Republican, and a leader in the movement toward fiscal responsibility.
As Congress battle over taxes and spending, President Obama says lawmakers would do well to follow the example set by Warren Rudman nearly 30 years ago.
In a statement, the President called the two-term Senator the embodiment of Yankee sensibility.
Warren Rudman’s time in Washington was highlighted by his struggle to balance the Federal budget.
To that effort, he helped push through the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, signed by President Reagan in 1985.
It called for automatic spending cuts if the budget deficit grew too large.
Rudman described the bill in 2007 as a guest on NHPR’s The Exchange.
“We knew that people were going to have to vote to increase the debt limit, which is an onerous thing to do, so we gave them something that would give them some cover. We said, yeah, you’ll have to vote for that, but here you can vote for a piece of legislation that’s going to hopefully guarantee it’s not going to keep happening in the future! To the liberals, it meant it might cut Defense spending, and to the conservatives, it meant it might cut social spending, and so there was something in it for everybody…”
With its mandatory cuts, the act can be seen as a pre-cursor to today’s sequestration deal.
Ominously, perhaps, the bill did little to curb deficit growth.
Rudman’s other defining legacy in Washington was his successful efforts to get David Souter nominated for the Supreme Court.
Souter had worked under Rudman in the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, but wasn’t all that well known in Washington.
Another former AG, Tom Rath, knew both men at the time.
"Our theory had been, we were advocating this for David, who didn’t particularly want the job, was that if President Bush, 41, ever sat down with David Souter across the desk, he would choose David Souter for the US Supreme Court. And that, indeed, is what happened."
Rath describes Rudman as a political centrist, who happened to think the center was wherever he was.
"He really was a Senator in the New Hampshire mode. He valued, and he relished, and he treasured in his independence."
Rudman retired from the Senate in 1993, but kept fighting for fiscal restraint in Washington. He helped found the Concord Coalition, a bi-partisan group that educates the public about the risks of runaway debt.
Robert Bixby is its Executive Director.
"He stood for fiscal responsibility. He just thought it was crazy that the country would run these enormous budget deficits. That we had to make hard choices about spending. And that revenues needed to be on the table, and he thought the American people were fully capable of making those hard choices if they understood what was at stake."
In 1998, Rudman was tapped to serve on President Clinton’s Commission on National Security. It was the country’s most comprehensive review of defense strategy in nearly 50 years.
Democratic Senator Gary Hart co-chaired the initiative.
"We did forecast terrorist attacks on America as early as 1999, and our final report in January 2001 said that terrorists would attack America and that Americans would likely die in large numbers. And that was 8 months before 9/11. But neither the new Bush administration, nor the media, paid much attention."
Hart says he and Rudman never understood why no one paid attention to the warnings. The reports’ suggestion of a new Homeland Security Department was eventually adopted.
Rudman himself served in the armed forces, earning a bronze star during the Korean War. A native of Boston, he had a reputation of being gruff. In 2007, Rudman described his approach this way:
“If you want to accomplish anything in public life, unless you’re willing to roll over every time somebody, you know, says a nasty word to you, then you ought not to be in this business! I mean, you’ve gotta stand for what you believe in! If you don’t do that, then frankly, you’re not worth the…the office is too great for you, and you ought to leave.”
It was that spirit that endeared so many to Rudman.
"He was energetic. He was aggressive…and he was a good friend," says Tom Rath.
Warren Rudman died Monday evening after a long battle with Lymphoma.