H.R. Gross, R.I.P.
Where have all the curmudgeons gone? Last year we lost Howard Jarvis, the irascible old coot who masterminded California's Proposition 13 tax revolt. At this summer's end, Wisconsin's populist maverick William Proxmire announced that he will not seek reelection in 1988; he'll no doubt be replaced by some blow dried bipartisan nonentity.
Our latest loss is H.R. Gross, a legendary figure in the halls of Congress, who passed away in September. Gross was an Iowa radio broadcaster who came to Congress in 1948 as an antiwar, antispending Republican. He "wears loud neckties," wrote a bemused Life reporter, "and a perpetually worried expression."
What worried him was the unraveling of the federal purse. Gross stalked the House floor until 1983, opposing almost any bill that required the expenditure of taxpayers' money. It didn't matter if the subject was Medicare or a few dollars to light the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy's grave. H.R. Gross was agin it.
He was a staunch isolationist, the sort of Midwesterner who called foreign aid "money down a rat hole" and denounced the bombing of Cambodia because it cost too much. Gross always appeared irritated, yet his mordant humor—typically, he ridiculed a proposed national aquarium as "a glorified fish pond"—endeared him to all but his most earnest colleagues. H.R. Gross often said that he regretted only one act in his hallowed career: he failed to vote against President Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (He voted present.)
Gross had a high gnomic sense; his aphorisms, maxims, and sly barbs could fill an encyclopedia. May he rest well, and may his drab successors never forget the sign that adorned his office: "There is always free cheese in a mousetrap."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "H.R. Gross, R.I.P.".