House Majority Leader Armey announces retirement in floor speech


Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Majority Leader Dick Armey announced his retirement in a floor speech Wednesday, saying the conservative causes he has championed have changed the world for the better.

``To my Republican colleagues, we should be proud of what we have done in our young majority,'' said Armey, R-Texas, citing ``peace through strength and supply-side economics.''

Armey's retirement plans, effective at the conclusion of his current two-year term, had been an open secret. Already, the GOP whip, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, was at work lining up commitments to succeed Armey in 2003. DeLay's deputy, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, was seeking to become whip, the No. 3 leadership position.

Armey did not mention the jockeying to succeed him, focusing his remarks instead on the legislative victories achieved by the GOP majority over the past seven years.

Wearing his trademark cowboy boots, Armey became emotional when he addressed his wife, Susan, who sat in the gallery. Choking back tears, he thanked her for ``all your years of sacrifice.'' Members responded with a standing ovation.

Armey said Republicans had twice lowered the tax burden on America's working families, reformed the welfare system, and ``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.''

Republicans and Democrats are trying to work out a compromise on the package before they leave for the Christmas holiday.

Armey, 61, was elected majority leader following the Republican takeover of the House in the 1994. He 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 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 started his House career 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 in the House 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 there, 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 conservative principles and also was an economics professor.

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

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.

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 far outside the North Texas district few thought he'd conquer.

Armey said he 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.