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GOP budget hawk Gramm won't seek re-election

Gramm was first elected to the Senate in 1984.  

By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, a perennial champion of balanced federal budgets, tax relief and granting more decision-making power to states and localities, announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election next year, ending 18 years of service in the Senate.

Gramm, flanked by his wife Wendy and a full house of staff members, told reporters on the Senate side of the Capitol complex Tuesday afternoon that he would not mount another campaign to retain his seat this coming year, saying his mandate had been fulfilled, and it is now time to move on to another career.

The three-term Texas Republican's retirement from public service would be effective at the end of his current term, in January of 2003.

"I will not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate," a tearful Gramm said. "At the end of this term, I will end my period of public service."

"I have spent two thirds of my adult life in the service of Texas and America," he added, "and I have loved every minute of it."

CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on the decision of U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, (R) Texas, not to seek relection in 2002 (September 4)

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Gramm, the second conservative Republican to announce his retirement from the chamber in the course of the last month, entered the Senate in 1984.

Jesse Helms of North Carolina announced last month that he too would not seek re-election at the end of his current term, throwing his seat open to a raft of Democratic and Republican hopefuls. Gramm's seat may be considered a bit more safe for the GOP, with several Texas lawmakers, including Rep. Henry Bonilla, mentioned as possible replacements.

Gramm himself said Tuesday he was confident the seat would remain in Republican hands.

"Today, Republicans dominate Texas politics," he said. "I am leaving the Senate with the absolute confidence that the person who takes my place will share my philosophy and values." Gramm later added that he would not participate in any way in the primary process leading up to the 2002 midterm election.

The plans of Gramm and Helms to leave the Senate in 15 months are shared by another longtime southern Republican, 98-year-old Strom Thurmond of North Carolina. The Senate is now in the control of the Democrats, who hold a 50-49 seat edge in the chamber. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, once a GOP member, is the Senate's only independent.

His departure could make it harder for Republicans to regain the chamber majority next year.

Gramm, Helms and Thurmond, coincidentally, were all Democrats who switched to the GOP, citing differences in philosophy and ideology.

Educator turned lawmaker

Gramm, 59, is a resident of College Station, Texas, where he taught economics at Texas A&M University before turning to politics. With a Ph.D. in economics, Gramm has always immersed himself in the mechanics of government spending and the national banking and financial services industries, championing tax reduction, balanced budgets, reduced regulatory burdens on banks, and private investment of Social Security payroll taxes.

He was elected to the House in 1978 as a Democrat, but switched parties some time later when the House Democratic Leadership chastised him for aiding the Reagan administration in the formation of its wide-ranging budget and tax cut plan.

Even now, Gramm credits the Reagan plan with jump-starting the domestic economy in the early- to mid-1980s, and for creating a strengthened military whose very existence helped bring about the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Gramm, always a staunch fiscal conservative, chose to resign his House seat so he could make the party switch, and ran in a 1983 special election to reclaim the post as a Republican. He won, becoming the first Republican to be elected in that House district in more than a century.

He took on Democratic state Sen. Lloyd Doggett - now a member of the House - to succeed retiring Sen. John Tower in the 1984 election, and rode back into Washington along with President Reagan, who was elected to his second term.

In 1990, Gramm defeated Democratic state Sen. Hugh Parmer to retain his seat, and in 1996 he bested high school teacher Victor Morales.

Gramm served as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, following the 1998 defeat of New York Republican Alfonse D'Amato, before Democrats took the Senate majority earlier this year, and is now the panel's ranking member.

Mandate fulfilled, he says

While chairman, Gramm, who is renowned in conservative and economic circles for his broad knowledge of fiscal policy and economic trends, promoted and passed legislation that brought the first significant changes to U.S. banking laws since the late 1930s.

He is also credited with passage of the Gramm-Rudman budget act, which put significant restrictions on the growth of federal spending.

Save for the implementation of private investment accounts for Social Security beneficiaries, Gramm said Tuesday his mission as a lawmaker had been accomplished.

"When I ran for (the House) 25 years ago, I promised the people of my district I would go to Washington to put the federal government on a budget, to put more money back in the pockets of people who earned it, and that I would work to pass power back from the federal government to the states, to counties, to the states and to the people," he said.

" I would work to reform welfare, rebuild our national defense, and roll back the borders of international communism," he continued. "Today I can stand before you and say not only did I fight for these things, not only did I play some leadership role in each and every one, but that remarkably, they all happened."

Gramm tried his hand at president politics in 1996, but abandoned his run early to turn his attention back to the Senate.

He now says he relishes the idea of moving on to something new when his last 15 months as a legislator wind down, but he refused to speculate about what that new endeavor might be -- and he shrugged off a query that he might be in line to become the next president of Texas A&M.

"I love Texas A&M, but one of the things I have always felt is that when something is as close to you as that is to me, maybe it would be best if I weren't on their payroll," Gramm said. "I wouldn't want anything to happen there that would change my feelings about things."

• U.S. Senator Phil Gramm

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