By Jason McLure
LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Former Senator Warren Rudman, a moderate New Hampshire Republican known for a budget deal that helped slash government deficits in the 1990s, died on Monday at age 82, state officials said.
Rudman, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, served in the Senate from 1980 to 1993. He was best known for his work in the 1980s on what became the Gramm-Rudman Act — a bipartisan budget agreement that triggered automatic cuts to federal spending if the deficit exceeded certain targets.
Democratic President Barack Obama called him "one of our country's great public servants" and said politicians in both parties could learn from Rudman.
"As an early advocate for fiscal responsibility, he worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to call attention to our nation's growing deficit," the president said in a statement.
A platoon leader in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, Rudman was a successful New Hampshire lawyer who was appointed attorney general for the state in 1970. In 1979, he defeated John Sununu, a future New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and went on to beat incumbent Democrat John Durkin.
He later became the top Republican on the Senate committee investigating the White House's role in the Iran-Contra arms scandal under President Ronald Reagan and helped shepherd the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who had worked under Rudman in the New Hampshire attorney general's office.
He declined an invitation to become secretary of the treasury under Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Rudman's passing was mourned by both Democratic and Republican officials.
"He always put principle over politics and fought for what he believed in," Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said in a statement. "Senator Rudman's willingness to work across party lines to get the job done remains an example for all elected officials."
After retiring from the Senate, he served on a number of defense and intelligence advisory boards and practiced law in Washington with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
"To those of us privileged to have worked with him, Warren was a person of uncommon wisdom, with impeccable judgment and a wicked sense of humor," the firm's chairman, Brad Karp, said in a statement. "He was a joy to work with, always collegial, warm and supportive."
Rudman, who took a deep interest in the national debt, saw the issue of persistent deficits as a problem all Americans had to come to terms with.
"Frankly, I blame the American people as much as I blame Congress," he said in an interview with researchers from the University of California in 2010.
"They talk a great game, the American people do. ... Once you get into specifics, you suddenly realize the American people were against deficit spending, as long as it didn't affect anything that they benefit from, which is where we are today."
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Stacey Joyce)