Let's get this straight. It's not "Gramm-Rudman," or "Grudman," as Hillster argot has it.
That big budget-busting legislation is Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.
In fact, says Sen. Ernest F. (Fritz) Hollings, the silver-haired Democrat from South Carolina, "It used to be Gramm-Hollings-Rudman, and we had a news conference to that effect."
The point is, he says in his rich southern accent, that he is a Democrat, and the other two guys are Republicans. "We were trying to give the bipartisan thrust." And the press, he thinks, sometimes leaves out the Hollings part "to make it a partisan kind of cop-out from the ill effects of Reaganomics."
Or, says Hollings, maybe it's just that "I got more friends in the press than Gramm and Rudman."
(Many major news organizations, including The Washington Post, now routinely use all three names.)
"Now that it's been passed, we can call it Gramm-Kennedy," says Hollings with a big smile. "Kennedy voted for it. Let him explain it." Grudmanhol passed the Senate last December with 22 Democrats and 39 Republicans in favor and 22 Democrats and 9 Republicans opposed.
The hubbub over the whole thing is just enormous, he says. Even with his name often left out in news accounts, mail and phone calls are pouring into his office "in total opposition . . . I've wrecked their programs, I'm ruining their increases, I'm not giving them a COLA [cost of living adjustment], I've gone against the veterans, I've gone against this and everything else."
He's heard from the lobbyists, "all of 'em. They all want to have a meeting, like you don't understand it."
The senator, a veteran of almost 40 years of South Carolina politics, sits erect in a plush sofa that is positioned before a wall-sized map of the world in his office. Like most of his colleagues, he returned to town yesterday for the new session of the 99th Congress. No sooner had he arrived than he bumped into another senator, who had recently visited an impoverished district in Japan.
Cracked the colleague: "Evidently they passed Gramm-Rudman-Hollings out there 10 years ago."
Hollings retorted: "That's the way it could work without it. If we continue on, we'll all be destitute."
Of his role in the legislation, Hollings says, "I cleaned it up."
Among other things, he says, "I made sure that we had Social Security off-budget in order to keep [House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and the Democrats in the boat. I also made sure that the revenues were optional to make sure that President Reagan was in the boat."
Near the sofa in Hollings' office is a dollar bill in a frame on the wall. The inscription says, "Every dollar spent by this government comes from the pocket of a working American. Our challenge is to act as if it were our own."
"That's right," he says, indicating the dollar bill. "We got a triple-A credit rating and I been tryin' to pay the bill. That's all I want done. I happen to believe in women's, infant's and children's feeding, I believe in the Small Business Administration, I believe in the student loans, and I believe in payin' for 'em."
Recently in South Carolina, he says, it was discovered that spending was outpacing revenues, and the governor ordered an across-the-board budget cut. Similar cutting has taken place, he says, in 43 states.
"We're doing in Washington what we're doing in 43 state capitals. That's all that's happening, and yet it's a reaction like during World War II when, aboard ship in the Navy, they'd say, 'When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!' "
But the senator is optimistic. "Oh yeah, I think we'll simmer down from the hysteria . . . If we [Congress] develop the discipline, you'll never hear of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings again. All you gotta do is tell the truth. We didn't tell the truth back in August. We were 20 billion over, and that's why we have to cut right here in February."
Hollings, 64, won his first elective office in 1948 and was elected governor of South Carolina in 1958, at age 36. He ran for president in 1984, and when asked if he plans to try that again, he says, flatly, "No." His current Senate term expires this year.
When he went home during the congressional recess, Hollings says, he was beseiged at parties by retired persons worried about losing their COLAs.
"I tell 'em the truth," says Hollings. ". . . We never had COLAs under John F. Kennedy. We never had COLAs under the Great Society. Lyndon thought of every way in the world to spend money, [but] he never thought of a COLA."
Hollings tells them he isn't against COLAs, as long as there is a "revenue enhancement," as he prefers calling taxes.
"All I'm saying is, if we're going to give the increases, let's pay for them . . . I want to pay for 'em with an oil import fee, with a corporate minimum tax."
When he stands there at a cocktail party and says such things, says Hollings, "They just look at me, stunned . . . They're saying that if Social Security gets it, 'Why can't we?' And that was at every party I went to."
Social Security taxes, he notes, have gone up in recent years to pay for increased payments.
"They don't understand, particularly in the military retirment, that they don't contribute to their retirement."
Hollings thinks that, in the end, Reagan will have to agree to some "revenue enhancement," and, "We can sit down in March and knock out a budget that both houses will accept . . . Otherwise it'll be just nothing but politics . . . and we just continue, by gosh, to give 'em a dollar's worth of government for 75 cents, and until they catch us we'll continue to do it.
"I think Gramm-Rudman-Hollings will catch 'em."