Wisconsin statesman recalls eight presidents, 28 years on Capitol Hill

Rep. Henry Reuss, whose Washington career dates back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt, is viewed by many here as more than an ordinary politician. His judgment is highly regarded by Republicans as well as by fellow Democrats. For lack of a better word, the accolade ''mini-statesman'' may well apply.

The persuasive Wisconsin congressman is using this lame-duck session of Congress for his last hurrah as he steps down after 28 years on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Reuss is pushing a jobs program with a public-works centerpiece. He seems confident it will pass and that President Reagan will acquiesce, ''declaring it a presidential victory even as he accepts a compromise.''

Reuss also said the President ''could have been and still could be a fine president. His gift for simplifying matters, his agreeableness whenever he appears in public, his persuasiveness on television: All these are enormous assets.''

''The only trouble with the President,'' continued Reuss, his partisanship beginning to surface, ''is that he really doesn't believe in anything very much. For 20 years he plumped for various products, providing a whoop and a holler for his clients.

''Now what he's done is to move the country toward fewer regulations, less spending, fewer taxes, and some increase in military strength. Now if he could end his effort to make wealthy people wealthier at the expense of the middle classes, he'd be a great success and be able to retire in 1984 with a lot of good feeling about him in this country. Incidentally, I don't think he will run again.''

The President's history in California was that he took strong stands in dealing with a Democratic Legislature - then moved to a compromise. Do you think this will happen now that the House has picked up 26 Democrats?

It will take some moderate, reasonable Republican leaders from Congress, like [House minority leader Robert H.] Michel, [Sen. Howard H.] Baker, and [Sen. Bob] Dole to talk to Reagan and bring him around. I think the California experience will then be repeated. If you ask me whether the President will ever admit to changing his positions, I will say no. But I think he will change.

How do you rate other presidents who were here during your long period as a congressman? Who was the most outstanding among them in your estimation?

Well, FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] was here when I came [originally to work for a federal agency], and I thought he was great. But among the others I think the most outstanding of them was [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. Because he was just right for his times.

Eisenhower believed in bipartisanship. And he continued with the New Deal. The redistribution of wealth continued. Yes, he suited his times well.

And the other presidents you saw from close at hand?

LBJ [Lyndon B. Johnson] had a marvelous first year. But then came Vietnam and his promise of guns and butter at the same time. And his administration soon was in disarray.

[Richard M.] Nixon's administration was upset by his insisting on doing things the easy way. [Gerald R.] Ford was as nice a guy as you would ever want to meet on a ski slope. [Jimmy] Carter was a real tragedy. He possessed an intellectual gift and personal morality. But he underused the first and overused the latter.

What do you think of lame-duck congressional sessions?

They are usually not productive. But I think this one will be.

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