ONE DEPARTING administration member needs a little more comment, as he is ending not just a brief executive branch stint, but rather an adult professional life in government. As Edmund S. Muskie leaves his office at the State Department today, it's a moment to recall the extraordinary record that he has built in the 22 years since he first came here as a senator. r
Throughout the country, he will probably be remembered longest as the man who drafted most of the present environmental legislation. The list runs to more than a dozen major bills, beginning with the Clear Air Act of 1963 and the Water Quality Act of 1965. Air and water pollution is now falling throughout most of the country. Those laws are working to provide protection to the health of Americans, and particularly those who live in the big cities where the dangers have historically been highest.
Within Congress itself, he made a signal contribution as the first chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. In close collaboration with Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, the ranking minority member, he established a pattern of careful and sophisticated surveillance over the spending totals. If frequently brought him into collision with the chairmen of other and better established committees, but he was a man of enormous determination and a taste for combat in a good cause. He succeeded in bringing an altogether new rationality to congressional budget procedures that had been wildly -- and often deliberately -- obscure and chaotic.
A convinced advocate of arms control, he supported the SALT process with his customary vigor and deplored its failure to impose sharper restrictions on the expansion of both Soviet and American arsenals. He maintained an active interest in foreign policy throughout the same years in which he was writing the pollution control laws and struggling to get the budget resolutions through the Senate. When President Carter needed a person of international stature to take over the State Department in a bad moment, after the failure last April of the attempt to free the hostages in Iran, he turned to Mr. Muskie. What he got was precisely the levelheaded judgment and steadying presence that his administration desperately needed.
He ran for vice president in 1968 and for president four years later. Both times he lost, and yet throughout it he was a beneficial influence on his party, standing for clear and seasoned judgment. The famous temper was real. But so were the extraordinary range of interest, the skill at managing difficult legislation, and the passion for politics as a means of elevating the life of the country.