Remembering Bill Frenzel

Remembering a Congressman

Former Congressman Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) died last month at the age of 86. Bill was a leader for free trade and a strong supporter of the Bretton Woods Institutions that America stood up after World War II. Bill believed that strong Bretton Woods Institutions were in the American interest.

A moderate Republican, Bill worked across the aisle on trade and other issues. President Bill Clinton asked Bill Frenzel after he had retired to help get the North American Free Trade Agreement done. He was appointed by George W. Bush to the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations as well as a commission to study the social security system.

A veteran of the Korean War, he had gone to Dartmouth for his undergraduate degree and his MBA (the Tuck School). He spent a number of years in the Minnesota State Senate.

He spent 20 years in Congress, retiring in 1991. Upon retirement he settled into the Brookings Institution where by all accounts he was well liked, and made a contribution through his research and his willingness to mentor young scholars and staff. Brookings hosted a very nice remembrance event for him a couple of weeks ago and at least a half dozen former members showed up. My good friend and colleague at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Thelma Askey’s remarks were particularly nice, remembering his support for her as a young female staffer on his committee.

Outside of his day job at Brookings, he was always willing to help a younger generation of Republican elected officials and policymakers — many more conservative than he was. He kept a close eye on political races in Virginia and his home state of Minnesota. Minnesota Republicans admired him.

I got to know Bill Frenzel in the last years of his life in his role as co-chairman of the Bretton Woods Committee — a group that advocated for a strong U.S. role in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He spoke at an event that I hosted at my day job at CSIS on the important but arcane topic of IMF Quota Reform. I have written about this topic here and here. Bill was very much in favor of the United States supporting IMF Quota reform. I suggested we ought to do a deal — giving the Republicans in Congress something in exchange for IMF quota reform: he was more in favor of Republicans passing it just on its merits.

He had a dry and understated sense of humor. For example, my last communication with him was by email in early October and he said to me that he had only a few more weeks to live and mentioned “these things are not precise.”

Bill Frenzel believed in an America engaged in the world and an American led liberal order. As the new Congress takes up Trade Promotion Authority, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and IMF Quota reform, we should get these done on their merits but we should make an extra effort to get them done in remembrance of Bill Frenzel.

article published in on December 12, 2014.

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