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Warren Rudman: Blunt, Egotistical, Unflappable and Tenacious"

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A vocal hawk on defense matters, Rudman nonetheless stunned the Pentagon by convincing the Senate to kill off the $1.5 billion VIPER -- a shoulder"'fired antitank weapon -- which he proved was both ineffective and cost-prohibitive. Moreover, Rudman got Congress to agree to a highly unusual step: forcing the military to competitively test various weapons systems, including those made by foreign manufacturers. This took a great degree of political courage, considering that the technical components for the VIPER were manufactured in Nashua, Rudman's hometown. Rudman also got the Senate to scrap the ill"'fated "Sergeant York" gun, which he said should have been called the "Sergeant Bilko." For his efforts, Rudman won the respect of his Senate colleagues -- and the enmity of the military brass.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected on a platform which promised to balance the budget, dramatically increase military spending, and lower taxes. The theory behind the platform was given the name "supply"'side economics." The Fourth Estate called it "Reaganomics." George Bush called it "voodoo economics." Rudman, charmed by Reagan's ability to state his case, voted in favor of the president's 1981 budget proposal. Although he prayed that all the figures were correct and that Reaganomics would work, Rudman feared that it was all an illusion.

To his regret, Rudman's fears about increasing spending while lowering taxes were by no means chimerical; far from reducing the deficit, Reagan's plan doubled it within five years. Rudman was outraged. As the Senator told his colleagues, "After five years under a Republican president and a Republican Senate, we managed to double the national debt. I mean, who's kidding who?" In his memoirs, Rudman blamed both Budget Director David Stockman for "budgetary deception and political cynicism that numbs the mind," and the president himself for "inhabit[ing] his own reality." Something radical had to be done. America was fast becoming the world's leading debtor nation.

In 1985, Rudman came to national prominence when he, Texas Senator Phil Gramm [1942- ], and South Carolina's Ernest "Fritz" Hollings [1922- ] introduced the Gramm"'Rudman"'Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act. Called everything from "the political version of hemlock" to "just about the dumbest piece of legislation I have seen," the measure mandated a balanced budget by 1991. It included a "doomsday device" which mandated automatic across"'the"'board spending cuts if needed to meet deficit-reduction goals. Gramm and Rudman made an effective team: "While Gramm provided much of the oratorical firepower behind the proposal, the more established Rudman gave it an aura of respectability."

Rudman truly believed that the bill's doomsday machinery w ould never have to be used. As he wrote in Combat, "We saw the legislation as a forcing mechanism. We thought the threat of automatic cuts would force Congress and the White House to compromise on a responsible budget." Automatic cuts would be, among other things, a shameful admission of political incompetence. The bill mandated that the Government Accounting Office, a creature of the executive branch of government, act as referee.

Debate over the proposal was intense. At one point a Pentagon official went so far as to charge that Gramm"'Rudman delivered "a message of comfort to the Soviet Union." Rudman was apoplectic: "The Russians ought to be dancing in the street when they see this country spending itself into bankruptcy," he responded. "They can defeat us without firing a shot."

Gramm"'Rudman passed both houses of Congress, and was signed into law by President Reagan on December 18, 1985. Rudman came away from the signing ceremony with the sinking feeling that Reagan was far more enamored of tax cuts than balanced budgets.

On February 7, 1986, a federal court found Gramm"'Rudman unconstitutional. The court held that it violated the separation of powers doctrine by "investing the power to determine how the automatic spending cuts were to be carried out with the comptroller general, who is appointed by the president but who can be fired by Congress." Later that year, the Supreme Court, in a seven-to-two vote, upheld the lower court's decision.

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Senators Gramm and Rudman then drafted what was called "Gramm"'Rudman II." In this version, the Government Accounting Office [GAO] would still decide whether automatic cuts were called for, but its recommendations would go to the House and Senate Budget Committees. In turn, these committees would then initiate legislation ordering the President to begin the process of sequestration. The problem with Gramm"'Rudman II was obvious: the automatic cuts were no longer automatic. "Our backup plan returned the hard budget decisions to the same Congress that had failed to make them before."

In summing up the battle over the deficit, Rudman wrote, "Gramm"'Rudman was defeated by politics as usual. The way it was undermined stands today as a textbook example of how politicians trick the American people into thinking they're acting on a problem when in fact they're ducking it."

Prior to becoming involved with the deficit fight, Warren Rudman gave serious consideration to ending his Senate career after one six"'year term. With the passage of Gramm"'Rudman, he decided to run again, easily defeating former one-term Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody [1920-1997], whom the Democrats had enlisted at the last minute just to have someone -- anyone -- on the ballot.

In his second term, Rudman became a member of the minority. As ranking Republican of the Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, Rudman co"'chaired -- along with Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye -- the Iran"'Contra hearings. These nationally televised hearings investigated the Reagan administration's sale of arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages and its diversion of some of the profits to the Nicaraguan Contras.

What bothered Rudman the most about Iran"'Contra was "the implications this had to our presidency and our Constitution: that someone can cook up an intelligence scheme, feed it to the president, brief him incorrectly, then lie to the secretary of state and the attorney general, and then try to cover up what they did." Rudman's posture lent a much"'needed bipartisan tone to the hearings. Although he believed in his heart of hearts that Reagan was not legally culpable, he wrote that "clearly it was the president who had created the climate in which Iran"'Contra could happen."

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The question on everyone's mind was whether or not President Reagan had had full knowledge -- or worse, given consent -- to the highly complex plan. Although Rudman had himself been a supporter of the Contras, he nonetheless became the most outspoken Republican critic of the administration's handling of the affair. When Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North [resplendent in Marine uniform and full complement of medals] testified before the committee, Rudman sternly criticized him, saying, "The
American people have the constitutional right to be wrong."

What bothered Rudman the most about Iran"'Contra was "the implications this had to our presidency and our Constitution: that someone can cook up an intelligence scheme, feed it to the president, brief him incorrectly, then lie to the secretary of state and the attorney general, and then try to cover up what they did." Rudman's posture lent a much"'needed bipartisan tone to the hearings. Although he believed in his heart of hearts that Reagan was not legally culpable, he wrote that "clearly it was the president who had created the climate in which Iran"'Contra could happen."

Rudman was roundly criticized by his state's largest newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, for his role in the hearings. The pugnacious Rudman fired back, "I want someone from the Right politically to stand up and say, "I think it was good to sell arms to the Iranians.' Let them stand up and say that. If they don't believe it, they should keep their mouths shut." The Union Leader's condemnation notwithstanding, Rudman's mail proved that the overwhelming majority supported his tough stance.

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http://www.kurtfstone.typepad.com

Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)
 

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