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In His Own Words: Sen. Warren Rudman stood up to the deficit

U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H. announced he will not seek a third term March 24,1992 during a Statehouse news conference in Concord, N.H. Rudman, co-author of the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction act, said 12 years was enough.(AP photo/John Pierre Lasseigne)

U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H. announced he will not seek a third term March 24,1992 during a Statehouse news conference in Concord, N.H. Rudman, co-author of the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction act, said 12 years was enough.(AP photo/John Pierre Lasseigne)

Here is an excerpt from a speech on the Senate floor on March 12, 1992, by former U.S. senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire shortly before he announced that he would not seek a third term. Rudman, who died last week, described frustrations that will sound familiar today:

I have been here now for over 10 years and, with all due respect to the castigating and the pummeling that the Congress generally takes, I would have to say that I have never in my life, served with so many extraordinary people as I serve with in this body. There is almost no one here – in fact, there is no one here in whom I do not find some element of redeeming value. Some more than others. But the fact is that we are unable, institutionally, to do what has to be done. We are literally not watching the fiddler fiddle while Rome burns; we are watching the entire orchestra. How is it that in the early spring or late winter of 1992, with a Federal budget deficit reaching $400 billion, with a country in economic disarray; how can we responsibly stand on this floor and talk about doing anything that has even the slightest chance of adding, not a dime, but a penny to a budget deficit?

I think I have the answer. I think I have finally figured it out after 11 years. And that is that we are afraid to level with the American people, because they have been lied to for so long. Maybe “lie” is a strong word. Maybe we have simply not told them the whole truth. Look at the 1980 presidential campaign, the 1984 campaign, the 1988 campaign, and look at the Republican loss of the U.S. Senate in the 1986 elections, following people on this side of the aisle being willing to stand up tall for a proposal offered by the then chairman of the Budget Committee, Sen. Domenici, which, had it become law, this country would not be in recession today. We would not have these record deficits, and the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law would never have been necessary to think of. But what happened, of course, was that there were screams from people in the other body, from both sides. The then speaker and the then president sat down under an oak tree, or some sort of a tree down at White House, and they made a deal and they just cut the legs out from under those here on both sides who supported some rather draconian measures to address the issue.

Since that time, with the exception of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, there has been no serious effort to address this deficit. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame. Congress is to blame. We are all to blame.

We are here for a blink of time. No matter how lofty we think our positions are, and how well we are thought of, most of us will be long forgotten two years after we leave here, or maybe less than that.

And 10 years from now, as we are in the early part of the new century, most of us who are here now will not be here. We will either have retired, been defeated or passed on to our great reward.

For those of us who are still on this Earth, and we were here during the decade of the ’80s and the early ’90s, how are we going to feel as we look at what the economic picture of America is at the end of this century; with a national debt, which at that time will equal the gross national product ala the Third World, with deficits at $800 billion to $1 trillion and foreign governments sitting there with their hands folded and dictating to America the terms and conditions on which they will loan us money to support our past profligacy. That is really what we are talking about here.

Many of my friends here on both sides of the aisle have asked what I am going to do next year. One of the things I have truly enjoyed about this body is that it is a place where you truly can have friendships and alliances on your own side of the aisle and on the other. I had many of my Democratic friends and most of my Republican colleagues ask me, what are you going to do this year? You have not announced your intention; you have a reasonably good rating in your state. Are you going to run for re-election? And people tie it to all sorts of things, maybe lots of money and having more free time, and all of that is important, but it is really unimportant.

I did not plan to say this this morning but I am going to. The thing that has really been troubling me for the last three or four months, to try to determine whether to spend another six years of my life in this place with so many fine and wonderful people, is it worth it? Can you do anything? Can you accomplish anything? Can you make the country better? Are you part of a solution rather than part of the problem?

I believe that the American people are ready for straight talk. I greatly admire my former Senate colleague Paul Tsongas. He is not doing terribly well, probably because he is telling the truth. That is not a good formulation for winning elections in America, because people have been misled for so long by this government. They truly believe that what is really wrong is waste and mismanagement, when the fact is what is wrong is the transfer payments are eating us up alive.

But he has had at least the guts to say some hard things and he will probably lose.

I wonder whether there is enough will in this place in the next week or 10 days for people to come to the realization that individual political careers make no difference in terms of the security of America. If we were at war, I have no doubt that people would believe that, and people would rise to the height of patriotism. I look at the people in this chamber, look at the occupant of the chair, and the senator from Texas, the chairman of the finance committee; in time of war no one could give more or did. And yet, in a time when we are at war economically, when the security of America is being drained drop by drop, we cannot seem to get it together.

Is it not possible, with the extraordinary leadership that we have in this chamber, with the Democratic leader, my friend from Maine, with the Republican leader, my friend from Kansas, with the distinguished chairmen and ranking members of committees, with the brilliance, with the good will, with the good sense, could we not all come together and say it is time to do something for America and stop this politics as usual, which is tearing the country apart and ruining it at the same time?

I have said a lot more than I wanted to say this morning. But it was time to say it. Is it possible in the next month or two – after what happens here is going to happen, we will have a bill passed the president will veto, the Republicans will sustain it, we will be at ground zero – could we possibly get together and address the single most important issue facing America; and that is to finally, finally, together as a group who care about our country and our future, address the deficit which is eating the fabric, the substance the values of a country which all of us hold dear?

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