Pol Who Rubber-Stamped Reagan Agenda Now Knocking Obama for ‘Ramming’ Policy Into Law

Ronald Reagan Conversing with Representatives
Phil Gramm’s name appeared on one of the most remarkable examples of congressional surrender to the executive branch in history, the 1981 Reagan Budget. Photo: Scott Stewart/Bettman/Corbis

Former Texas senator Phil Gramm has a co-byline on a Wall Street Journal piece reassuring Republicans that if a GOP president is elected next year Obama’s policies can quickly be “erased.” Before outlining a procedure by which this erasure can be guaranteed with or without actual review of said policies, Gramm and Michael Solon engage in some boilerplate agitprop about the unprecedented and partisan nature of Obama’s agenda:


[W]hile Roosevelt and Reagan sold their programs to the American people and enacted them with bipartisan support, Mr. Obama jammed his partisan agenda down the public’s throat. The Obama legacy is built on executive orders, regulations and agency actions that can be overturned using the same authority Mr. Obama employed to put them in place.  

This characterization of the 44th president’s tactics for overcoming defiantly obstructionist Republican members of Congress is dubious on the merits. But it’s outrageous coming from Phil Gramm, whose name was on the bill that showed how policies lashed together overnight in the executive branch could be “rammed through” Congress virtually sight unseen. 

Gramm actually executed a double congressional surrender to Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, in 1981, when he was a nominal but very conservative Democrat serving on the House Budget Committee. He conspired with Stockman and with the ranking GOP member on the Budget Committee, Delbert Latta, to use an obscure device called “reconciliation” to force Democratic-controlled committees to implement Reagan’s budget. The resolution approving this blueprint was called, accordingly, Gramm-Latta. But then Stockman decided to swing for the fences, and got Gramm and Latta to offer a huge substitute amendment — dubbed Gramm-Latta II — on the House floor putting aside the budget bill they’d compelled House committees to draft, and instead enacting the president’s original budget blueprint into law with no real congressional input. 

It was and probably remains the most astounding act of congressional abdication of authority to executive-branch bureaucrats ever: a year’s worth of legislation accomplishing a decade’s worth of major changes in domestic and international governance, all in one quick vote cloaked by the president’s political capital. It’s hard to overestimate how shocking it was at the time, and Phil Gramm was there to offer a bogus bipartisanship (his was one of the most reliably Republican votes in the House) to the whole enterprise.

Gramm tossed aside the sheep’s clothing of Democratic self-identification in 1983 in preparation for a successful Senate bid (Ron Paul was one of his opponents in the 1984 Republican Senate primary). He met his own Waterloo in 1996, when he ran a lavishly financed but disastrously unsuccessful presidential campaign.  

But Gramm-Latta II rubber-stamping Stockman’s handiwork was his most enduring legacy. That to this day Gramm is a false friend to the idea of deliberative government or congressional prerogatives is evidenced by the proposal he and Solon roll out for “erasing” Obama’s policy legacy:

The last sentence is the key: eight years worth of executive orders thrown out in toto without individual review. It’s sort of the regulatory equivalent of Gramm-Latta II.

Remembering Gramm-Latta II, the Reagan Budget