Dan Rostenkowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1981 to 1994, passed away on Wednesday, Aug. 11.
Although his career ended in disgrace when he went to federal prison on corruption charges (he later was pardoned), the Illinois lawmaker also is remembered by many as a consummate Congressman.
The quintessential Democrat also was a pragmatic politician. Rostenkowski believed in compromise and as head of the House tax-writing committee, he worked with Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan to shepherd the 1986 tax reform act into law.
I was in D.C. then, working for a Representative who was on the Ways and Means Committee, so the 1986 Act was a major part of my life. To this day I view "historic" as part of the official title of the tax bill, which lowered rates and eliminated numerous loopholes.
The description applies as much to the changes made to the Internal Revenue Code as to the way Capitol Hill, thanks to members of Congress like Rostenkowski, worked together across party lines to achieve real and beneficial change to our tax system.
Another tax blogger, Daniel Shaviro who pens Start Making Sense, also was in the nation's capital then and remembers the late W&M Chairman this way:
"I was on the Joint Committee of Taxation staff for the 1986 Tax Reform Act, during Rosty's tenure. Whatever else one says about him at any other point in his career, at that time I observed him to be a true statesman and leader. (And I speak as one who is extremely hard to please, when it comes to political figures.)"
When asked how he'd like to be remembered, Rostenkowski said, "I think the epitaph I'd like to see, even on my gravestone, would be, 'He wrote good law. That it was fair.'"
You can read more on Rostenkowski and his passing in the following publications (thanks to TaxProf Blog for rounding up the links):