WASHINGTON — The death of former senator Warren Rudman, R-N.H., is especially poignant at this moment in American politics, both because of the fiscal challenges facing the country and because Congress is now all-but devoid of moderate lawmakers like him.
Rudman died Tuesday at 82 after a long illness. He won two terms to the U.S. Senate, where he served as vice chairman of the Iran-Contra Commission, served on the Senate Ethics Committee and investigated the “Keating Five” and fully supported the nomination of David Souter to serve on the Supreme Court. When Rudman retired in 1992, President Bill Clinton asked him to serve as treasury secretary, but he declined, and Clinton later appointed him to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
“He never let politics stand in the way of doing what was right, and that’s why he had the absolute respect of Republicans and Democrats,” Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday.
“Warren’s fierce independence and commitment to always placing the national interest over political expediency set a high standard and served as an inspiration to a generation of public servants, especially me,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement noting Rudman’s death.
“As a senator, Warren worked with everyone, and was respected by everyone, both Republicans and Democrats,” McCain added. “He repeatedly reached across the aisle to address America’s greatest challenges.”
In a similar statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted Rudman’s independence and called him “a leader in the cause of fiscal responsibility.”
Indeed, Rudman’s concern for the nation’s fiscal policy will most likely will be his enduring legacy. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called him “an early advocate for fiscal responsibility,” adding that “leaders on both sides of the aisle would be well served to follow Warren’s example of common-sense bipartisanship.”
When he retired, Rudman joined with Democrats to establish the nonpartisan Concord Coalition to raise concerns about the nation’s fiscal policy - 20 years before fiscal policy became the leading issue of concern in Washington. His work with the group came after he joined with Sens. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., and Phil Gramm, R-Texas, in 1985 to enact the first binding spending constraints on the federal budget. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act was designed to trim the federal deficit, but it ultimately didn’t work, despite their best efforts.
Regardless, it was the inspiration for the series of cuts and tax increases currently facing Washington. In his book, The Price of Politics, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward recounts how lawmakers learned that the White House wanted a plan similar to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings proposal to compel lawmakers to reach an agreement.
In late July 2011, White House officials came to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., with an idea for a compulsory trigger. When White House officials presented Reid with the idea, he:
“. . . bent down and put his head between his knees, almost as if he was going to throw up or was having a heart attack. He sat back up and looked at the ceiling. ‘A couple of weeks ago,’ he said, ‘my staff said to me that there is one more possible’ enforcement mechanism: sequestration. He said he told them, ‘Get the hell out of here. That’s insane. The White House surely will come up with a plan that will save the day. And you come to me with sequestration?’