Lloyd Bentsen


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(b. Mission, Texas, 11 Feb. 1921; d. Houston, Texas, 23 May 2006)

US; Member of the US House of Representatives 1949–54, US Senator 1970–92, Secretary to the US Treasury 1993–4 The son of a wealthy Texas rancher, Bentsen was educated at the University of Texas, where he studied law and business. He spent time in the Army Air Corps in the Second World War and returned to practice law in Texas. From 1945 to 1948 he was a judge in Hidalgo, Texas. In 1948 he was elected to the House of Representatives but, after re-election in 1950 and 1952, he left the House in 1954 to develop his insurance business. In 1970 he defeated a liberal Democrat, Ralph Yarborough, in the primary and went on to win the general election against Republican George Bush, largely as a result of his ability to organize whites and ethnic minorities in a united campaign.

In the Senate he tended to be conservative on fiscal and security issues and more liberal on social issues. His conservative style of politics served him well both as chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and on the powerful Finance Committee which he chaired from 1987. His legislative expertise enabled him to make major contributions to reform in a variety of areas including pensions and catastrophic health care, as well as tax and trade law. Although generally resistant to protectionism, he urged tougher measures against Japan for failing to amend its trading practices. His key committee positions enabled him to defend the interests of Texas, especially its oil industry and his ingenuity on its behalf earned him the nickname ‘Loophole Lloyd’.

Bentsen displayed presidential ambitions but his generally conservative politics and dry manner made him an increasingly unlikely Democratic presidential nominee. In 1976 he withdrew at an early stage of the race because Jimmy Carter seemed more likely to appeal to the South. Yet when Michael Dukakis chose him as running mate in 1988, he performed very well against Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle. When Bill Clinton appointed Bentsen Treasury Secretary in 1993 and chief economic spokesman, there was some concern that the job had gone to a politician who was too much identified with the establishment and the oil industry. But Clinton needed Bentsen's expertise, especially given how heavily he had emphasized the economy in his campaign. Bentsen served two years as Treasury Secretary in the first Clinton administration where he provided balance to the President's own coterie of advisers. Bentsen left the administration in December 1994 and retired from public life.

Subjects: Politics.

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