House Majority Leader Armey retiring

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- House Majority Leader Dick Armey announced his retirement Wednesday, saying the conservative causes he has championed, "peace through strength and supply-side economics," have changed the world for the better.

"To my Republican colleagues, we should be proud of what we have done in our young majority," Armey, R-Texas, said in remarks prepared for delivery on the House floor.

Armey's retirement plans, effective at the end of next year, have been an open secret for more than a day. Already the GOP whip, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, was at work lining up commitments to replace him. DeLay's deputy, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, also was seeking to move up the leadership ladder.

Armey made no mention of the leadership succession to follow his departure, focusing his brief prepared remarks instead on the legislative victories achieved by the GOP majority over the past seven years.

He said the GOP had twice lowered the tax burden on America's working families, had reformed the welfare system, and had "honored America's prosperity by our spending restraint."

He added, "We turned government deficits into hard-won surpluses, which we must now hold.

"We will hold those surpluses by restoring economic growth through supply-side tax cuts. That is why we cannot leave here without passing an economic stimulus package."

Armey, 61, was elected majority leader following the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections. He had played an instrumental role in crafting the "Contract With America," the GOP campaign manifesto, and in his leadership job was responsible for pushing its provisions to a vote in the first 100 days of the 1995 session.

Armey's unflinching conservative views and penchant for plainspokenness drew criticism and occasional derision from Democrats.

He referred only briefly to political combat in his prepared remarks. Recalling that lawmakers had together sung "God Bless America" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, "It is that feeling of unity -- not the heated exchanges -- that I will remember fondly."

Armey arrived in the House in 1985 -- in the midst of the Reagan presidency. And his remarks echoed the themes of that era.

"Peace through strength and supply-side economics changed the world for the better," he said.

In nearly two decades in the House, Armey morphed from an unlikely winner of the congressional seat held by a Texas incumbent to a national symbol of the rise of Republican power.

He arrived at the House in 1985 as a quirky novelty: an economics professor from a little-known Texas college who was so fiscally conservative that he slept in the House gym and, after he was tossed from the gym, on his office couch.

Despite some missteps, Armey, evolved and emerged as the second most powerful House member in time to benefit from the Republican revolution.

"Dick Armey will be more than missed. His absence from the great national debate will be mourned by those of us who believe in less government and more freedom," said Sen. Phil Gramm, another powerful Texas Republican who is planning to retire. Gramm shares Armey's fiscal and social conservative principles, was an economics professor and has been considered quirky.

In his early days, Armey was considered a political fluke. He ran unopposed for the Republican nomination because incumbent Tom Vandergriff, a Democrat, was expected to win. Riding the political coattails of Ronald Reagan and helped by redistricting, Armey was elected 51 percent to Vandergriff's 49 percent.

His impulsive remarks kept House colleagues from taking him seriously. His ideas, including doing away with the Social Security system, and his right-wing opinions made others dismiss him as a nut.

Some of those ideas have since become vogue. Armey pushed the idea of a flat tax long before Steve Forbes made it a presidential campaign issue. Eliminating farm subsidies or at least reforming them now has administration support.

Other ideas Armey made popular through his own salesmanship. He pushed for an independent commission to review military bases and recommend those that should be closed. In 1988, Congress approved the first base closures in more than a decade.

While building his political reputation, Armey also built a political base. He created political action committees to help elect other conservatives. Over the years, he has amassed contributors stretching for miles outside the North Texas district few thought he'd conquer.

Several sources said Armey would serve out the balance of his term, meaning no successor will be chosen for his leadership position until after next November's midterm elections. Depending on whether Republicans or Democrats control the House then, Armey's successor would become leader of the majority or minority.

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