Carl T. Curtis, 94, a Nebraska Republican and enthusiastic fiscal conservative who served 40 years in Congress before retiring in 1978, died Jan. 24, the Associated Press reported in Lincoln, Neb. No cause of death was given.
Sen. Curtis served 16 years in the House of Representatives and 24 in the Senate, longer than any other Nebraskan. During his final Senate term, he was known for his staunch support of President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate crisis that ultimately led to impeachment proceedings and Nixon's resignation.
Even as the Senate's Republican leaders, including the influential Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, of Arizona, turned against the president, Sen. Curtis never wavered in his support of Nixon. After the 1974 release of White House tape recordings implicating the president in the coverup of responsibility for the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, Sen. Curtis went on national television to proclaim Nixon's innocence and fitness for office.
"I feel that I spoke up for a man falsely accused," Sen. Curtis said in 1997.
As a young Nebraska lawyer, Sen. Curtis won his first term in the House of Representatives in 1938, running on a campaign based on opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The young Republican viewed the New Deal, which put Americans to work during the Depression, as wasteful and ridiculous.
Over the course of his legislative career, he held steadfast to his conservative beliefs, voting against numerous social programs that are now part of the American fabric: Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, federally funded school lunches, federal aid to education and public housing.
Federal dollars create dependency, he said, recalling that when he was a schoolboy he didn't eat a federally funded lunch. "It didn't hurt me to walk to school carrying a lunch pail," the Associated Press quoted him as saying in 1994. But he had a history of support for legislation that provided federal payments to farmers, who made up one of Nebraska's major electoral constituencies, and he said one of his greatest legislative accomplishments was his leadership in bringing flood control and irrigation to the Midwest.
During his last term in Congress, Sen. Curtis was chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. He decided to retire in 1978, he said, because "I'd rather have people ask me why I didn't run again rather than ask why I did."
On leaving Congress, Sen. Curtis practiced law in Washington for four years, then returned to his native Nebraska to work on his memoirs, which he titled "40 Years Against the Tide."
He was born in Kearney County, a descendant of Nebraska pioneers and the fourth generation of his family to have lived there. As a boy, the future senator practiced his speech-making skills on the barn animals on his father's farm.
"I never tried to get everyone to agree with me. My goal was to get them to respect me," he said in an interview in 1994, the AP reported. In high school, he was a debater and played on the football team.
He attended Nebraska Wesleyan University, then after being admitted to the Nebraska bar in 1930 had a private law practice in Minden. Later he was a prosecuting attorney for Kearney County. He took his oath of office in the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 1939, and served continuously until retirement.
His wife, Lois Wylie Atwater Curtis, died in 1970. They had two children.