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Los Angeles Times Interview

Warren Rudman

Taking the Anti-Deficit Crusade Beyond Partisan Politics

September 08, 1996|Jack Nelson | Jack Nelson is chief Washington correspondent for The Times

WASHINGTON — Warren B. Rudman, the former GOP senator known for his candor and strong opinions, minces no words about his close friend Bob Dole's plan to cut taxes by 15%.

"We just flat disagree," Rudman declares, insisting the proposal would drive up the budget deficit and wreck the economy. "One of the anguishing things in politics," he says, is taking strong issue with a personal friend you generally support. "But if a friendship can't survive that, then it probably isn't much of a friendship."

Rudman is a founder and co-chairman of the Concord Coalition, a private, bipartisan group crusading to end deficits. He signed a coalition ad just before Dole's tax plan was unveiled, warning that a big tax cut would be "technical voodoo" that would damage the economy. Since then he has signed a second ad questioning Clinton's record on the deficit, but again criticizing the Dole plan.

Yet, the friendship has endured. And Rudman, interviewed at his spacious 13th-floor law office on L Street, remains a Dole advisor. He still believes Dole would make "a great president," but worries that the Republican presidential nominee's campaign is faltering and President Bill Clinton "could win by a substantial amount." He suggests Democrats also may recapture control of the House of Representatives, but says he would be "shocked" to see the GOP lose control of the Senate.

On the other hand, says Rudman, if the choice came down to a divided government or Democratic rule, he would select Democratic rule, because "at the end of four years, you'd either see progress or you'd see disaster, and the people could at least assess credit or blame."

Rudman, who retired from the Senate in 1993, after 12 years, sees the failure of both major parties to address the budget crisis adequately as an open invitation for formation of a major third party. Indeed, he and other leading Republican and Democratic veterans of Capitol Hill have already discussed the idea privately.

A former New Hampshire attorney general, Rudman spoke out forcefully on several other issues during a conversation Wednesday, and also disclosed that, in 1993, he declined appointment as the original independent counsel for Whitewater. Rudman recommended Robert B. Fiske, who held the post until 1994, when a three-judge federal panel replaced him with Kenneth W. Starr, a conservative Republican from the Bush administration.

Rudman criticizes the replacement of Fiske as "a political move that is not good for the federal judiciary." A Whitewater indictment before the election, he said, could hurt Clinton, but it would also be widely viewed as political because Americans "are very suspicious of mixing the legal system with elections."


Question: You've said any presidential candidate proposing a large tax reduction when the budget deficit is so large would be pandering. Is a 15% across-the-board cut pandering?

Answer: I'm not sure in Bob Dole's case it's pandering. For him to make that kind of a change, to me, is remarkable. He's always been such a deficit hawk. Let me just make a point here. There were some very interesting pieces written by some very respected people, most notably Gary Becker, a Nobel laureate, who writes that the plan will work. . . .

The problem with the Dole plan, with all these plans, is the following: This year, roughly 85% of the budget will be made up of entitlements, defense spending and interest. That leaves about 15% for so-called discretionary spending. Unless you're willing to do some major reform in entitlements, there is no way you can do this . . . . It is politically and practically impossible to get the range of spending cuts.

Q: Essentially, you thought Dole's tax proposal was a mistake?

A: I thought it was a mistake, because I thought it would open him up to serious criticism . . . .

But I find it interesting that Bob Dole has proposed three 5% cuts, instead of one up-front. I believe that if this plan were to pass and the spending cuts were not to happen, Bob Dole would pull back, because I do not believe that Bob Dole would allow the deficit to mount as it did in the early 1980s.

Q: You're co-chairman of the Concord Coalition that not only opposes tax cuts, it recommends a 25-cent-a-gallon tax increase on gas, increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco, and a $20,000 limit on tax deductions on home mortgages. So how could you rationalize any tax deduction when considering the deficit?

A: We don't. We as a coalition, and I, personally, believe the nation would be better served by proving that we can cut discretionary spending. Then if we can cut taxes, that's something else.

Q: President Clinton is way ahead in the polls. What have Dole and Kemp got to do to come from behind and overtake him?

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