WASHINGTON, November 28, 2015 – Back in the 1980s, the New Republic magazine published an exposé on the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski.
In a brilliant bit of forensic accounting, the magazine explained, point by point, how “Rosty” cleverly wrote massive tax breaks for individual campaign contributors into the massive federal budget by dividing and then cross-referencing the pieces within the convoluted text of the bloated bill.
The devil is in the details, it is said, and Rostenkowski knew how to write them.
The arrogance of corruption eventually caused his undoing, and Rosty was brought down. “Rostenkowski’s thefts were penny-ante,” writes James Merriner in his book “Mr. Chairman: Power in Dan Rostenkowski’s America.”
“He was accused of stealing about three-quarters of a million dollars, which is relatively nothing next to the multimillion-dollar tax breaks he regularly wrote into the tax code for his pals and contributors – perfectly legally,” says Merriner.
In 1985, the New York Times reported that Rostenkowski got then chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Claude Pepper of Florida, to change the terms governing debate on tax legislation by granting special bond authority for a new Miami Dolphins stadium and redevelopment funding for the City of Miami.
“Chances are that no one in Congress, except for Mr. Rostenkowski and Mr. Pepper, including the members of the Ways and Means Committee who approved the rules covering the exemptions by voice vote… knows of the favors given to the Florida Congressman. Like all the rest of these rules, they were purposely written to conceal the beneficiary.”
“It’s illustrative of how Rostenkowski deals with people,” a member of his congressional staff told the Times. “If you’re straight with him and are trying to help him, he’ll do the best he can by you.”
And, one might add, these spending bills were signed into law by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
I mention all the above in light of the fact that the GOP has controlled the nation’s purse strings since 2010 and has done nothing to curb federal spending or the national debt or attempted to defund Obamacare.
What the GOP needs is a chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee like Dan Rostenkowski. Not for the purpose of feathering his own nest or benefiting his campaign contributors, but to bury small, ticking time-bombs in massive omnibus spending bills to dismantle key provisions within monstrosities like Obamacare, hastening their collapse.
Why is it that today’s Republican leaders seem so incapable of thinking outside the box?