Former U.S. Rep. Rostenkowski dies at 82
From staff reports
Former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who represented Chicago’s northwest side from 1959 until 1995, died Wednesday, Aug. 11, at age 82, at his home in Lake Benedict, Wis.
Funeral services will be at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Chicago’s north side. The church will host a public wake for Rostenkowski from 1 to 9 p.m., Monday, Aug. 16, and the funeral service will be at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 17. The burial will follow at St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles.
Rostenkowski, characterized by the Chicago Tribune as a “classic meat-and-potatoes politician,” was the son of an alderman and a product of the Cook County machine. He served as Democratic committeeman for the 32nd Ward for many years, even while serving in Congress.
Rostenkowski’s political career ended in 1994 when, after a two-year investigation by the Justice Department, he was indicted on corruption charges for his role in a House of Representatives post office scandal.
As a result of the indictment, Rostenkowski was forced to step down from all Congressional leadership positions. He lost his seat and retired from political life later that year.
Charges against Rostenkowski included keeping “ghost” employees on his payroll, using Congressional funds to buy gifts such as chairs and ashtrays for friends, and trading in officially-purchased stamps for cash at the House post office. The stamps-for-cash charges were later dismissed on the recommendation of the prosecutor.
Rostenkowski pleaded guilty in 1996 to reduced charges of mail fraud. He was fined and sentenced to 17 months in prison, of which he served 15 at the federal prison in Oxford, Wis., and the remaining two months at a halfway house in Chicago.
Rostenkowski was pardoned in December 2000 by President Bill Clinton, who said “Rostenkowski had done a lot for his country and had more than paid for his mistakes.”
Prior to his indictment in 1994, Rostenkowski was considered one of the most powerful legislators in Washington. He closed legislative deals between the toughest power brokers in the U.S., from union chiefs to corporate titans to the president himself.
In his book, Chicago and the American Century, F. Richard Ciccone, a longtime reporter and editor with the Chicago Tribune and an adjunct professor of American studies and journalism at Notre Dame, named Rostenkowski the sixth most significant politician to come from Chicago in the 20th century. According to the book, Rostenkowski secured billions of dollars for projects in Chicago and throughout Illinois.
Rostenkowski rose to power in the U.S. House of Representatives when he became chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in 1981. The committee oversees taxation, tariffs and other revenue-raising measures, as well Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicare, enforcement of child support laws, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (a federal welfare program), and foster care and adoption programs.
As chairman of Ways and Means, Rostenkowski played a central role in the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which remains one of the most major simplifications of the tax code, drastically reducing the number of deductions and the number of tax brackets.
Other measures passed during his Ways and Means chairmanship included the following:
• Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981—Encouraged economic growth to a slumping economy by reducing individual income tax rates, permitting the expensing of business investments, and increasing incentives for individual savings.
• Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982—Addressed the burgeoning budget deficit by raising revenue by approximately $100 billion.
• Social Security amendments of 1983—Provided solvency for the social security system, which was facing bankruptcy before the enactment of this bill.
• Interest and Dividends Tax Compliance Act of 1983—Repealed the requirement for withholding on interest and dividends, replacing that system with a system of “backup withholding” and expanded information reporting.
• Deficit Reduction Act of 1984—Targeted the threat to the economy posed by increasing budget deficits and the erosion of the tax base as a result of the use of tax shelters. In a four-year period, the act raised revenues by $50.7 billion.
• Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, P.L—“COBRA” was focused primarily on health insurance issues. It required that employers provide their employees with continued health insurance coverage when they leave their jobs.
• Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986—Imposed taxes on polluting industries such as chemical and petroleum companies to finance the cleanup of toxic waste sires and leaking underground storage facilities.
• Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987—Another deficit reduction bill to raise $12 billion of revenue through various tax changes affecting corporations.
• Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988—Focused on providing protection against catastrophic medical expenses under Medicare.
• Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989—Another deficit-reduction bill that made several changes to the corporate tax provisions of the code.
• Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990—Reduced the deficit by increasing the following: excise taxes on certain luxury goods including cars more than $30,000, boats more than $100,000, airplanes more than $250,000, and furs more than $10,000; excise taxes on gasoline and motor fuels; excise taxes on tobacco and alcoholic beverages; excise taxes funding the airport and airway trust fund taxes; and excise taxes on telephone services.
In addition, the act also increased the top individual tax rate from 28 percent to 31 percent and the individual AMT rate from 21 percent to 24 percent; capped the capital gains rate at 28 percent; and phased out personal exemptions above certain income thresholds.
The act also affected payroll taxes by raising the cap on taxable wages for Medicare from $53,400 to $125,000; extending Social Security taxes to state and local employees; and strengthening the unemployment insurance system by imposing a supplemental 0.2 percent unemployment insurance surtax.
The act also created for the first time various incentives for clean and renewable energy investments as well as a tax credit for accommodations made for the disabled.
• Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, Public Law—The final deficit reduction act of Rostenkowski’s chairmanship increased individual income tax rates and added two new brackets at the top of the earnings scale.
Throughout his career in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rostenkowski returned to Chicago almost every weekend. Upon his return to the city every Friday, Rostenkowski met with Mayor Richard J. Daley at his City Hall office to discuss Chicago’s agenda in Washington. He also worked with five other Chicago mayors—Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Richard M. Daley.
Following his career in politics, Rostenkowski operated Danross Associates, a Chicago-based legislative and government affairs firm. He also worked as a political commentator, as a guest lecturer at Northwestern University and as a senior fellow at Loyola University Chicago.
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