- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

At the head of the first Republican congressional majority in 40 years were three men: Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.
At times, theirs was an uneasy alliance. Mr. Gingrich was a revolutionary but not a conservative. Mr. DeLay was a conservative but not a revolutionary. Only Mr. Armey was both: unafraid of sudden, dramatic change and wedded to ideological principle.
A former economics professor from Texas, through hard work and sheer determination Mr. Armey rose to become one of the most powerful political figures in Washington.
On Dec. 12, he announced he would be retiring from the House at the end of his current term. He is leaving at the pinnacle of his power. Longtime staffers say this was always his intention, to leave on top and on his own terms.
There are also rumblings that he has grown tired of saving the White House from the wrath of his congressional brethren. The president's domestic agenda is constantly imperiled, in no small part because of the political tin ear that seems to be a Bush family curse.
Some allege that the last straw was the vote on presidential trade promotion authority, which the White House tried unsuccessfully to pull back when it feared defeat was in the offing.
The one-vote victory was hard- won, with Mr. Armey playing a critical role both swaying members and fighting off the administration's attempts to stop the advance of one of its own priorities. But there are only so many times a congressional leader can do that before it stops being fun.
Now highly regarded by his colleagues, he was originally thought an oddball, choosing to sleep in the House gymnasium and then, after it became an issue, in his office rather than rent an apartment in Washington.
Mr. Armey's first significant legislative achievement came in 1986, as the House passed an amendment to reform public housing that he co-wrote with former Rep. Jack Kemp and former Washington Delegate Walter Fauntroy. The success brought him to the attention of conservative economic reformers who were trying to bring federal spending under control while cutting taxes to grow the economy.
In 1988, Mr. Armey authored a revolutionary process to close unneeded U.S. military facilities. His "Base Closing Commission" idea took the politics out of the process, allowing cost savings to be realized while affected legislators saved face with the voters back home. By his office's own estimate, more than 100 major military bases were deemed unneeded and closed, a total savings of $14 billion to date and an estimated $4 billion per year well into the future.
A thoroughly partisan Republican, Mr. Armey has the reputation of always putting principle first something that often angers friends and foes alike. In 1990, he took on his own president and led the House Republican Conference to adopt an official position opposing tax increases or new federal taxes as a way to shrink spending deficits.
This won him no friends in the White House and made a permanent enemy out of federal budget director Dick Darman. Many believe the ensuing economic downturn and defeat of President George Bush the elder principally because his acquiescence to a tax hike broke his central pledge to the American people proved Mr. Armey to be remarkably prescient rather than a crank.
From his post as ranking member of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, Mr. Armey led the fight to defend the Reagan economic record and, in the process, cemented his reputation for being extremely smart and for having one of the best staffs of any member of Congress.
In 1992, Mr. Armey ousted incumbent GOP conference chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis by a vote of 88-to-84. In the GOP's march to a majority, only former Speaker Newt Gingrich's election as minority whip by one vote over Rep. Ed Madigan is more important.
That something unusually was happening in the run-up to the 1994 election is well illustrated by a story involving Armey and the man he replaced as House Majority Leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt.
In a shared ride back to Capitol Hill, Mr. Gephardt asked Mr. Armey if he would seek to replace retiring GOP House Minority Leader Bob Michel. Mr. Armey told Mr. Gephardt he would not seek the post as he was "running for majority leader."
Once again, his remark proved prophetic as the Republicans, riding a tidal wave created out of the "Contract with America" of which he was the principle author took control of the U.S. House for the first time in 40 years.
In his time as House GOP leader, Mr. Armey points to many successes achieved, but also to much work still left to be done. Former associates say Mr. Armey can look back with satisfaction on an 18-year career in which he accomplished much of what he set out to do. Now freed of worries over his re-election to the House and to his position in leadership, he can spend his last year in office on the remainder of his agenda.
There may still be a few radical reforms still to come from the man who put the "Can Do" in Texas GOP congressional politics.

Peter Roff is a national political analyst for United Press International.

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