TEXAS ON THE POTOMAC Knowing Phil Gramm BY LOUIS DUBOSE AST AST WINTER, fundamentalist Chris tians forced one of his key supporters, epublican State Party Chairman Fred Meyer, to announce that he would give up the state chair after six very successful years. In the spring, he was openly rebuked by Republican National Party Chairman Haley Barbour for peddling high-priced tickets to a meaningless Republican Senate Midterm Convention. In early summer, Congressman Joe Barton, his hand-picked replacement for Meyer, was defeated by the religious right in a bitter convention fight. Then, in a presidential-candidates’ straw poll at the same mid-June state convention in Fort Worth, he won only 8 percent of the vote, trailing Bill Bennett, Dan Quayle and Jack Kemp. Two weeks later, in a Republican straw poll in Iowa, he came in third, behind Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander. And one day before the new Republican Congress officially assumed power in Washington, Robert Mosbacher Jr., one of the most prominent mainstream Republicans in Texas, told Houston Chronicle reporter Alan Bernstein that he will be actively promoting the presidential candidacy of Lamar Alexander. None of this matters much to Phil Gramm, who remains the best bet to lead the Republican ticket in 1996. What makes Gramm the favorite to win the . Republican Even before he switched parties in 1983, Gramm demonstrated that he understands where power liesand that he will do whatever is required to make it serve his purposes. Gramm is a better fundraiser and has a larger fundraising database than any other potential candidate, for the presidency. And he understands how to use the Congress and the media to both promote himself and keep himself at a safe distance from financiallethical scandals of his own making. Gramm’s rapid ascent began in 1981, two years after was elected to Congress, when Jim Wright, then House Majority Leader, went to work on behalf of the Texas delegation and persuaded the Steering and Policy Committee to place two conservative Democratic Texas Congressmen on two important committees. Kent Hance, the former Democratic Congressman from West Texas who has run losing campaigns for most statewide offices in Texas, was assigned to Ways and Means. Gramm, who convinced Wright that he was tight with Ronald Reagan’s Budget Director David Stockman, was named to the House Budget Committee. \(There had been two committee votes before Gramm came to Wright for help and Gramm had placed last in both, Writing in his diary 14 years ago, Wright seemed to be trying to convince himself that he’d done the right thing in promoting committee assignments for Hance and Gramm: “I think these fellows represent a point of view which has. fallen somewhat out of fashion in our party in recent years, but which is closer to the popular currents. I guess it pleases me to think that I’m not forgetting, in all of the national .priorities, to look out for “our own.” But Wright couldn’t quite convince himself, and his reflections in his diary were prescient about Gramm’s career: Frankly, I had mixed emotions about Phil. He is such a gadfly. He will make waves. He’ll grandstand. He’ll get in the papers. He is the fly in my Fort Worth soup. No victory I can achieve for moderation will be sufficient for him. He’ll want to damn it publicly as “too little” while reaching for the politically attractive but practically unattainable ultimates. Gramm gave Wright his word and wrote a letter to all the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee members, promising that “in return for your support for a seat on the Budget Committee, I will work diligently to assure that Democrats in the House are presented with budget resolutions they can enthusiastically support on the floor and in their districts.” Gramm never looked back. He secretly provided Stockman with information on the Budget Committee’s Democratic Caucus closed deliberations, and on the day the resolution was to be marked up in full committee he walked into the office of the Budget Committee chair and announced that he had been working on a compromisewith David Stockman. “I’m going to offer it this morning,” he told James Joneswho for days had been asking Gramm what items he wanted included in the Democrats’ budget. “And I think,” Gramm added, “it’s going to be the Reagan program.” Even Delbert Latta, the Ohio Republican who was the ranking member of his party on budget affairs and who had been working with Gramm, got stiffed. According to Rutgers government professor Ross K. Baker, Latta was unaware of Gramm’s final deal with Stockman and Gramm’s decision to introduce the bill at the Budget Committee’s first mark-up session. Latta left a meeting with the committee chair, found Gramm, and the two engaged in a heated argument, Ross wrote. Gramm prevailed. “Latta thought that since he was a Republican,” William Greider wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “his name should go ahead of Phil Gramm…that it should be LattaGramm instead of Gramm-Latta.” He didn’t know Phil Gramm. In 1981, Gramman economist who could countunderstood the delicate equilibrium of the House. With a Democratic majority of 243-192, the 47 Boll Weevils, mostly conservative, Southern representatives, could exercise power disproportionate to their number. Texicrat Charlie Stenholm might have been the Boll Weevils’ leader in name, but once budget deliberations began all Stenholm could do was scratch his head and follow Gramm. In the end, all the Democrats could manage was to elevate Gramm’s public profile by stripping him of his committee membership which provided him the pretext to switch parties, resign from Congress and run again as a Republican. By the time he was telling enthusiastic crowds of constituents in the Sixth District “I had to choose between Tip O’Neill and y’ all and I picked y’ all,” Phil Gramm had found his milieu in the media. In 1984 Gramm prevailed in the election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Republican John Tower. In 1985, while he was 99th in seniority ranking in the Senate, Gramm sponsored the Gramm-Rudman \(and let’s not forget South Carolina Demoa balanced budget by 1991. The budget is still not balanced and Warren Rudman and Fritz Hollings, like Delbert Latta, long ago soured on Phil Gramm. Gramm’s manner of dealing with colleaguesof both partieshasn’t changed a great deal in 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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