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[Deathwatch] William Roth, former senator, 82



Former Del. Sen. William Roth Dies at 82
Mon Dec 15

WILMINGTON, Del. - Former Sen. William V. Roth Jr., who fought higher
taxes and wasteful government spending and created a popular retirement
account that bears his name, has died at age 82.

Roth collapsed at his daughter's house in Washington and died Saturday
night, according to friends of the family.

"Senator Roth leaves behind a tremendous legacy of fighting for the
American taxpayer, and he will be remembered fondly by his state,
country and former colleagues," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.


Roth, a Republican, also had a keen interest in international relations
and was a champion of balanced budgets and the environment, fellow
lawmakers said.

"The key to Bill Roth, and he has a pretty astounding list of
achievements over his lifetime in public office, was how he did it,"
said Delaware Republican Rep. Michael Castle. "He approached his
politics with humility. He did not seek the spotlight. He was willing
to share the credit with others."

Roth, who served five terms in the Senate before being defeated in 2000
by former Gov. Tom Carper, was a relentless champion of tax cuts and
also oversaw high-profile inquiries into alleged taxpayer abuses by the
Internal Revenue Service and that Pentagon overspending that uncovered
the famous $9,600 wrench and $640 toilet seat.

The Republican co-authored the 1981 Kemp-Roth tax cuts, but he was best
known as the creator of the Roth Individual Retirement Account, or Roth
IRA, an individual retirement account that allows people to invest
taxable income that can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement.

Before he lost the race for a sixth term at age 79, Roth was one of the
longest-tenured politicians in Delaware's history and the state's
longest-serving U.S. senator.

Roth, a native of Montana, became a political icon in his adopted state
of Delaware, where he moved in 1954.

During World War II, he had served in an Army intelligence unit in the
Pacific theater, eventually receiving the Bronze Star for meritorious
conduct. He attended Harvard after the war and became a lawyer.

Roth won his first seat in Congress in 1966, when he defeated
Democratic Rep. Harris B. McDowell Jr. He served two terms in the House
before taking over the Senate seat vacated by Sen. John J. Williams, a
Republican.

One of his first acts in Congress was to comb through the government
agencies that provide grants, small business loans and other money. He
finished with what became known as the "Roth Catalog," originally
published in the Congressional Record in 1968, a guide now updated
annually as "The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance."

In 1981, Roth joined then-Rep. Jack Kemp to usher in a sweeping tax cut
that conservatives hailed as the spark for the robust economy of the
1990s but critics blamed for the spiraling national deficits under
President Reagan.

Roth later focused his attention on the tax collectors, leading a
series of high-profile congressional hearings into the workings of the
IRS.

Although Roth insisted his inquiry reined in an agency out of control,
the hearings were unable to substantiate any specific claims of abuse
by IRS workers. He later wrote a 1999 book about the IRS, "The Power to
Destroy."

In 1983, as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he
helped to expose wasteful defense spending, drawing attention to
overpriced spare parts by decorating a Christmas tree with screws, nuts
and wrenches. The total price tag was $101,000.

"It costs us $110 to buy the same parts at local hardware stores and
supply houses," Roth said at the time.

When he lost his bid for re-election in 2000, Roth was the third-oldest
member of the Senate. Carper avoided making his age a campaign issue,
but at least twice during the campaign, Roth collapsed in public, once
in front of TV cameras. His campaign blamed the falls on an inner ear
problem.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Sunday at the University of
Delaware.