MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Minnesota Rep. William "Bill" Frenzel, a deficit hawk who spent 20 years in the U.S. House and later successfully helped lobby for the North American Free Trade Agreement, has died after a fight with cancer. He was 86.
Frenzel, a moderate Republican who advised both Republican and Democratic presidents on economic matters, died Monday at his home in McLean, Virginia, according to D.J. Nordquist, spokeswoman for the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think tank where Frenzel had been a guest scholar since 1991. Nordquist said she spoke with Frenzel's family early Monday.
"Bill was widely regarded as somebody with a willingness to bridge divides in Washington and work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle," said Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, who now holds Frenzel's seat. He added that Frenzel "represented the absolute best in public service."
Frenzel was re-elected nine times after winning his first election in 1970 to represent the state's 3rd District in the Minneapolis suburbs. Known for his crusade to balance the budget, Frenzel was the House's principal Republican economic spokesman, the ranking minority member on the House Budget Committee and sat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
But he also was known for his famous "Frenzel doodles," which he would draw during meetings. After deciding not to seek re-election in 1990, he became a special adviser on NAFTA to President Bill Clinton — who said in a speech that he planned to frame a doodle that Frenzel sent him on NAFTA after the legislation passed in 1993.
President George W. Bush appointed him to the Society Security Commission in 2001, and a year later to the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He also was a congressional representative to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva for 15 years.
Last month, Frenzel was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle — the highest honor Mexico confers on foreigners — for his work on NAFTA, which expanded cross-border commerce among Canada, the United States and Mexico. In 2000, Frenzel was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by the emperor of Japan for his efforts to advance trade and the U.S.-Japanese relationship.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton commended Frenzel's intelligence, friendliness and humanity, saying he "really served our state and the nation as one of the leading tax experts in the U.S. House."
A St. Paul native, Frenzel received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Dartmouth College. He was a naval officer during the Korean War and served eight years in the Minnesota House before being elected to Congress.
Former Democratic Rep. Tim Penny of Minnesota, who served with Frenzel in the House and also criticized the budget deficit, called Frenzel a mentor.
"I always knew I could trust the accuracy of his view on any given issue — particularly budget and tax matters," said Penny, who co-founded the Economic Club of Minnesota with Frenzel and former Republican Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy.
Frenzel is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ruthy, along with three daughters and two grandchildren.