Never has the nation been more in need of leaders like Warren Rudman, the former New Hampshire senator who died on Monday night at age 82. A principled conservative who nonetheless understood that his own goals were often best served by compromise, Rudman’s legacy ought to weigh heavily on congressional leaders as they seek to hammer out a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
In his two terms in the Senate, Rudman symbolized a familiar New England-style fiscal conservatism. But he understood that an uncompromising attitude would do nothing to bring down the deficits he abhorred. Instead, Rudman worked out legislation in the mid-’80s with fellow Republican Phil Gramm and Democrat Ernest Hollings to tame the deficit. Those efforts did not end deficit spending, but they forced Congress to grapple with budgetary restraint amid the profligacy of the Reagan years. Later, they helped to bring about the breakthrough budget act of 1990, a package of tax hikes and spending restraints that helped unleash the prosperity and balanced budgets of the ’90s.
When Rudman chose not to seek reelection in 1992, he cited the growing partisanship that was already making his brand of leader an endangered species. Out of office, Rudman served on foreign-policy boards, including one that warned of dangers of terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001. He also formed the Concord Coalition with former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas, a Democrat, to keep balanced budgets in the public conversation.
Rudman’s record of statesmanship stands in contrast with the irresponsible behavior of some current members of Congress. They include those of his fellow Republicans who have taken an uncompromising stance against raising upper-income tax rates, no matter the toll on the nation’s fiscal health. Hopefully, it’s not too late for them to learn from Rudman’s example.