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Ex-Rep. Bill Frenzel, Brookings Scholar, Dies at 86

Frenzel died Monday. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Rep. Bill Frenzel, a Minnesota Republican who spent two decades in the House and the rest of his professional life shaping trade and budgetary policy from off the Hill, died Monday at his home in McLean, Va. He was 86.  

Frenzel, who retired from Congress in January 1991, remained engaged for the next 23 years from his perch at the Brookings Institution in some of the biggest policy debates including the North American Free Trade Agreement. On NAFTA, he served as a special adviser to then-President Bill Clinton, helping the Democrat sell the pact to lawmakers.  

He “was instrumental in getting the agreement passed,” Brookings said in a statement.  

Frenzel was known as much for his serious policy chops as for his understated, folksy Minnesota style. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., said he was “very sad to hear my predecessor and good friend Bill Frenzel has passed away.” He added that Frenzel had cultivated a reputation for “working across the aisle to get things done.”  

And David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings, called Frenzel on Twitter “a tireless soldier in the campaign to make America a better place.”  

On Capitol Hill, Frenzel served as the top Republican on the House Budget panel and on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy and taxation.  

He advised the Obama administration on trade policy and negotiations until his death, stressing the need for Congress to grant the president fast-track trade negotiating authority to expand international trade. Obama does not have fast-track authority, but he is pressing for a massive pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Frenzel said earlier this year that not having fast-track would impede Obama’s trade agenda.  

“If I were a trade minister of one of the negotiating countries, I would certainly not be willing to put my best deal on the table until I knew Congress was going to vote this up or down,” Frenzel told CQ Roll Call in March. He added that trade authority was “an absolutely necessary thing to bring home any important treaty, and I think we’re in trouble.”  

Frenzel, who also served on then-President George W. Bush’s tax reform commission in the mid-2000s, graduated from Dartmouth College and was an officer in the Navy during the Korean War, according to his bio at Brookings , a policy think tank in Washington where he was a guest scholar in economic studies.  

He served on the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Bretton Woods Committee, the Eurasia Foundation, the Ripon Society and the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, among others.  He also served on the Office of Congressional Ethics and was a board member of Sit Mutual Funds and Northstar Education Finance.  

His private sector experience included serving as president of the Minneapolis Terminal Warehouse Co.  

Frenzel is survived by his wife, Ruthy, of 63 years, and three daughters and two grandchildren, according to a statement by the Brookings Institution.  

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