Sen. Gramm won’t seek re-election, a leader of the tax-cutting ‘Reagan revolution’
WASHINGTON (AP) – Texas Republican Phil Gramm said Tuesday he will leave the Senate at the end of his third term next year, closing out a career as an unflinching advocate of lower taxes and less government.
”I have always been happy with the tax cuts I’ve supported,” Gramm said at a news conference where he sometimes grew emotional. He quickly added, ”I still believe that government is too big, too powerful and too expensive and too intrusive,” and he urged a capital gains tax cut this fall.
Gramm, 59, said he has made no plans for life after politics. A former economics professor at Texas A&M, he sidestepped questions about the school’s presidency, which is vacant.
Gramm is the third Republican senator to disclose plans to retire in 2002. Jesse Helms, 79, of North Carolina, announced last month that his fifth term would be his last. Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, is 98 and near the end of his career.
A fourth Republican, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, has yet to declare his intentions. In all, there are 21 Republican seats on the ballot in 2002, compared to 14 for the Democrats, all of whose incumbents are expected to seek new terms.
Democrats currently control the Senate, 50-49, with one independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with them.
In a statement, President Bush, a fellow Texan, said Gramm ”has been a consistent and committed advocate of tax relief for working Americans, beginning with his work on President Reagan’s tax cut in 1981 … and continuing with his tireless efforts to pass this year’s monumental tax relief package.”
Gramm was elected to the House in 1978 as a Democrat. Appointed to the House Budget Committee by fellow Democrats in 1981, he worked secretly with Republicans to pass then-President Reagan’s budget, with tax and spending cuts and a big increase in the Pentagon’s budget. The landmark spending-cut legislation carries his name.
Later stripped of his committee assignment, he resigned his House seat following re-election. He promptly won it back as a Republican in a special election in 1983, then used it as a springboard to the Senate in 1984. He has been easily elected ever since, and was a safe bet for re-election next year.
But his brand of politics proved unsuccessful outside the state. A run for the GOP presidential nomination collapsed in 1996 when he finished fifth in the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
At the same time, Gramm steadily gathered influence inside the Senate GOP. As chairman of the Senate campaign committee, he helped usher in the GOP majority in the 1994 elections. A few months later, he helped Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott – now the GOP leader – gain a leadership post.
Gramm has been a relentless foe of big government, willing to clash with Democrats and Republicans alike on the subject. Chairman of the Banking Committee until Democrats gained a Senate majority this year, he played important roles in passing comprehensive banking legislation, which President Clinton signed into law, as well as a bankruptcy bill still pending.
At his news conference, Gramm made use of his trademark folksy rhetoric and biting partisanship. He said he had called Dicky Flatt – a Mexia, Texas, printer whom he frequently cites as an example of the voters who ”do the work, pay the taxes and pull the wagon” in Texas.
As for the Democrats, he dismissed their criticism that President Bush’s tax cut was eroding federal surpluses. ”I mean, these are the same people that for the next three months are going to be screaming for more spending. I don’t understand how politically they can possibly gain from what they’re doing,” he said.
Gramm said he was leaving because his goals – the balanced budget, tax cuts, welfare reform, Communism’s decline – had been accomplished. ”I am proud to be able to say today that not only did I fight for these things, not only did I play a leadership role in each and every one, but that in a very real sense, 25 years later these goals have been achieved.”
Gramm said he was confident his successor would be a Republican, but Democrats disputed that. ”The Texas Senate race, until this morning considered to be a seat safely in Republican hands, has now become a battleground state,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, head of the Democratic campaign committee.
Several names have surfaced as potential candidates.
Among Republicans, they include Rep. Henry Bonilla and three statewide elected officials, Attorney General John Cornyn, railroad commissioner Tony Garza and land commissioner David Dewhurst. Potential Democratic contenders included Rep. Ken Bentsen, former Rep. John Bryant, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former state Attorney General Dan Morales.
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