"Had we stuck to that plan, had the Congress not failed to follow it through — in fact, had presidents not failed to follow through — we would not be where we are today," Rudman said.
He said balancing the budget would require making wealthy retirees pay more of their medical costs, slowing the growth of discretionary spending, cutting waste in some agencies and eliminating unnecessary agencies.
He continued the fight after leaving the Senate. He and former Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts founded the Concord Coalition, which campaigns for a balanced budget.
During the biggest scandal of the Reagan years, Rudman, an outspoken member of the Senate's Iran-Contra Committee, said key administration officials had showed "pervasive dishonesty" and disdain for the law by selling weapons to Nicaraguan rebels.
During the 1987 hearings, he lectured Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the operation's key figure, about helping to hide the sale from Congress for fear it would have been rejected.
"The American people have the constitutional right to be wrong," he told North. "And what Ronald Reagan thinks or Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit."
Rudman also served on the committee that investigated the "Keating Five," senators with ties to the savings and loan debacle in 1991. The committee found California Democrat Alan Cranston had improperly aided former savings and loan executive Charles Keating Jr. When Cranston said he did only what others did, Rudman called the defense "arrogant, unrepentant and a smear on this institution."
He was born May 18, 1930, in Boston, graduated from Syracuse University in 1952 and got his law degree from Boston College in 1960.
In six years as state attorney general, beginning in 1970, Rudman established consumer protection and environmental divisions. As a private citizen after leaving office, he founded and led the Citizens Alliance Against Casinos in 1977, to keep casino gambling out of New Hampshire.
With no experience in elective politics, Rudman arrived in the Senate by winning an 11-candidate primary in 1980, then defeating Democratic incumbent John Durkin.
After Rudman left the Senate in 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed him vice chairman of the influential President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
He also led or was a member of investigative teams or federal commissions that looked into:
— An $11 billion accounting failure scandal at Fannie Mae, the mortgage company.
— Allegations that major dealers on the Nasdaq stock market colluded to fix prices.
— Violence between Israel and Palestinians.
— Ailments affecting veterans of the first Gulf War. The panel drew criticism from veterans' groups by concluding that stress was the most likely cause of some illnesses suffered by thousands of veterans, not exposure to chemical warfare or smoke and dust from depleted uranium ammunition.
Memorial services are planned in New Hampshire and Washington, though arrangements are incomplete, Stevenson said. The Washington service will be Nov. 29 with a location yet to be determined.
Former Associated Press writer David Tirrell-Wysocki and AP writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.