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Life and death on Capitol Hill.

Insider Outlook

Congressman Dan Rostenkowski couldn't make the burial services of my old friend Ira Herman but he was there, in spirit, at the grave nonetheless.

In fact, I believe that Congressman Rostenkowski was there in spirit when Ira took his own life of Jan. 27 of this year.

Just as Congressman Rostenkowski was there when Ira's business began to implode after the Congressman profoundly changed the tax laws under which businesses were formed, investments were made and life savings were place in trust.

Ira took the rules seriously. And the built up a lifetime's worth of work by following the rules that regulated every aspect of his ledger. He knew there were many in his industry who didn't play by the book and that there were abuses taking place. But he always believed that, rather than change the system, those abuses should be exposed and cheaters prosecuted. He recognized his responsibility to live under those rules and he did his best to follow the mammoth volumes of tax codes promulgated by Washington and Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

An then, in 1986, the Congressman changed the rules.

Perhaps he did it because he thought it was an effective way to end the abuses. Perhaps a group of lobbyists convinced him it was an opportunity to divert capital into the stock market and aid the recapitalization of America's corporations. Unfortunately, the revamped tax codes came just before the stock market crash of 1987 and corporations fought to survive much less reinvest in aging plants.

Today, political opponents are suggesting that Congressman Rostenkowski wasn't trying to engineer reform as much as he was trying to return the favors of some political contributors.

As a New Yorker, The Congressman won't care what I think. The voters in Mr. Rostenkowski's district will have to make up their minds. But while I am not a constituent, I, and every taxpaying American, will be touched by the decisions made by our fellow citizens who go to the polls. They will be deciding the fate of the most powerful man in America, perhaps even more than the President.

Congressman Rostenkowski is the one of the very few who can bend, fold, alter and create tax laws that have enormous consequences for our economy and for the average man and woman trying to make a living.

Some people have already made up their mind. Ira Herman is one of them. He saw a system that changed to the point of where it began to suffocate him until, in some inner hell, he made up his mind to deal with it the only way he could.

Perhaps, as Congress wrestles with franking privileges, redistricting and who will get which office overlooking the Capitol, it might do well to pause and think of Ira Herman. Everyday, they are affecting the very lives of Americans trying to survive a recession created, in part, by their passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act.

Congress needs to understand that they are no longer engaged in a simple political shell game where incumbency protection and Committee turf is the goal. They have within their power the ability to shatter lives through policy. They can create enormous economic damage during Cloak Room conferences. They can alter the lives of millions of Americans who put their life savings into investments, such as real estate, with the expectation that long standing tax rules would remain in place.

Many Americans have now have watched in horror as the value of their "rock solid" real estate investment has declined so significantly that the property is not even worth the amount of the debt.

No longer can members of the House and Senate point their fingers at the Federal Reserve, the President and his Council of Economic Advisors, for botching our economy. Elected officials, and their staff, and the lobbyists who feed in their midst, are every bit as culpable for the life or death of our economy.

In the end, we may never know what Ira Herman thought in those final moments of his life. But it is clear that the men and women of Congress, and those who serve them, must understand that what they do and what they having a profound, and too often tragic, impact on the people of America. It is time to put aside politics as usual and get down to the business of righting our economy.
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Title Annotation:real estate tax laws
Author:Blumenfeld, Edward
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 10, 1992
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