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Former Sen. Warren Rudman dies at 82

CONCORD, N.H. – Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman was known for his abrupt, no-nonsense manner and for freely giving advice during his 82 years.

New Hampshire Congressman Charlie Bass didn’t serve with him, but looked up to Rudman, who died Monday.

“He’d say, `Vote the tough way,’ and he’d say, `Don’t let people push you around,'” Bass recalled. “`If you know what’s right, vote the way that’s right, and if you’re forceful and persuasive and sure of yourself, people will support you even if they don’t agree with you.'”

Rudman, who co-authored a ground-breaking budget balancing law, championed ethics and led a commission that predicted the danger of terrorist attacks years before 9/11, died just before midnight Monday at a Washington, D.C., hospital from complications of lymphoma, said Bob Stevenson, a longtime friend and spokesman.

Stevenson acknowledged Rudman could be abrupt, but his peers respected him because he did his homework and was true to his word.

“He was a bulldog in the Senate. He set the standard for independence,” he said.

The feisty New Hampshire Republican went to the Senate in 1981 with a reputation as a tough prosecutor, and was called on by Senate leaders and presidents of both parties to tackle tough assignments.

He is perhaps most well-known from his Senate years as co-sponsor of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget-cutting law. He left the Senate in 1993, frustrated that the law never reached its potential because Congress and presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush played politics instead of insisting on spending cuts.

“People are willing to risk their lives for their country in times of war,” he said at the time. “They ought to be able to risk an election in a time of economic trouble.”

Rudman “always had the national good in mind,” said former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings.

“He wasn’t extreme one way or the other, except for the good of the country,” said Hollings from his South Carolina office. “He was balanced. That’s what we need.”

In 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, he co-authored a report on national security with former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart that said a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil was likely within 25 years.

“No one seemed to take it seriously, and no one in the media seemed to care,” Rudman said in 2007. “The report went into a dustbin in the White House.”

It was revived after the Sept. 11 attacks, and one suggestion, forming a Homeland Security Department, was adopted. Six years later, Rudman said the sprawling department wasn’t functioning well and the country would be hit again.

“It is not a question, I’m sorry to tell you, of `if.’ It’s a question of `when,'” Rudman said.

A former New Hampshire attorney general, Rudman was named chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee in 1985, a sensitive job that many colleagues avoided.

Throughout his Senate career, Rudman was cited for his work on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, where he supported a strong national defense but opposed expensive, high-tech weaponry.

The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act was approved in 1985. It was designed to end federal deficits by 1991 and required automatic spending cuts if annual deficit targets were missed.

Congress rolled back the timetable each year, and the 1991 budget that was supposed to be balanced carried the second-highest deficit in history. In 1995, 10 years after the law went on the books, Rudman lamented what could have been.

“Had we stuck to that plan, had the Congress not failed to follow it through – in fact, had presidents not failed to follow through – we would not be where we are today,” Rudman said.

He said balancing the budget would require making wealthy retirees pay more of their medical costs, slowing the growth of discretionary spending, cutting waste in some agencies and eliminating unnecessary agencies.

He continued the fight after leaving the Senate. He and former Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts founded the Concord Coalition, which campaigns for a balanced budget.

Former Associated Press writer David Tirrell-Wysocki and AP writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.

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