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Former House Titan Rostenkowski Was Deal-Maker

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Former House Titan Rostenkowski Was Deal-Maker


Former House Titan Rostenkowski Was Deal-Maker

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.


And Im Melissa Block.

Yesterday, we learned that former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska died in a plane crash. And today comes news that another one-time titan of Congress has died, Chicago Democrat Dan Rostenkowski. For 13 years, he wrote tax laws and loopholes as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Dan Rostenkowski was the gruff, deal-making, steak-devouring embodiment of Congress in the second half of the 20th century.

Representative DAN ROSTENKOWSKI (Democrat, Chicago): I've never had anybody call me and suggest that they want to be taxed.

OVERBY: Thats some quintessential "Roste" in a C-Span interview in 1993. He had helped to write a deficit-reduction bill for President Bill Clinton.

Rep. ROSTENKOWSKI: And I just hope that the Senate and the House of Representatives will respond. People want us to govern.

OVERBY: And govern, he did. As chairman of what reporters routinely called the Powerful Ways and Means Committee, he helped to overhaul the entire tax code, to pass a fix for Social Security financing, and to reduce the deficit.

Former congressman Tom Downey served on Ways and Means for 14 years, studying the Rostenkowski approach.

Former Representative TOM DOWNEY (Democrat, New York): To try to work out deals with Republicans - try to get a bipartisan package put together, if you could, and then bring that to the floor; that was good legislation, for him.

OVERBY: As to just how that good legislating was facilitated, Downey says Roste favored Morton's Steakhouse.

Rep. DOWNEY: The members would all go there, and some lobbyists or a group of lobbyists would pick up dinner. There would be steaks - and a lot of carousing.

OVERBY: But the country was changing around them. In 1989, senior citizens rebelled against a Medicare revision that Roste had championed. CBS News covered a constituent meeting in Chicago.

(Soundbite of a CBS News clip)

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified Man #1: Then Rostenkowski raced across the street to his waiting car and driver, still pursued by angry senior citizens.

Unidentified Man #2: Daniel, you're a bum.

Unidentified Woman: He's supposed to represent the people, not himself.

OVERBY: And in 1992, Rostenkowski got a subpoena, the start of a probe by the Judiciary Department on allegations that he misused public funds. He lost his seat in 1994. And in '96, he was convicted. Rostenkowski had this verdict on the verdict.

Rep. ROSTENKOWSKI: I personally have come to accept the fact that sometimes, one person gets singled out to be held up by law enforcement as an example.

OVERBY: He served 17 months. He didnt let his family visit him. Over the years, he grew more reflective. Here he is in another C-Span interview, in 2005.

Rep. ROSTENKOWSKI: You walk into a room that you used to take command of, and then you get into this frame of mind where you're thinking everybody is looking at you, and you're a crook. And thats sad.

OVERBY: But Rostenkowski also talked about a reunion with his Ways and Means staff.

Rep. ROSTENKOWSKI: And we had a great time, great dinner, and they were all still proud of the service that we rendered and, of course, me in particular.

OVERBY: Of course, because he was the chairman.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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