Ward M. Hussey dies; oversaw drafting of bills on Hill

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ward M. Hussey, 89, a powerful yet purposefully anonymous fixture on Capitol Hill who spent 17 years as the chief legislative draftsman in the U.S. House of Representatives, died Nov. 16 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He had complications from a fall days earlier. He lived in Alexandria.

Mr. Hussey spent 43 years in the House's Office of Legislative Counsel until retiring in 1979. For the last 17 years of his tenure, he was the legislative counsel overseeing a staff of a few dozen other lawyers who drafted bills for congressmen and committees.

The job, a combination of legal adviser and wordsmith, requires the holder to maintain absolute confidentiality about the work and to never take political sides. Draftsmen translate lawmakers' ideas into proper statutory language that does not conflict with existing law.

In other words, he told the New York Times, "in a jam, if we have to put something together quickly, how would we go about it?"

Mr. Hussey's specialty was tax legislation, and he had a major hand in crafting every major tax bill of his time. The Wall Street Journal described him as an "elfish" man who nonetheless cut an authoritative swath through the House corridors.

Carrying a 1,358-page tax bill from the House and a 1,580-page version from the Senate, he once walked up to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and asked whether Rostenkowski expected him to draft a bill that reconciled the two volumes over a Labor Day weekend.

"Ward, are you using props on me now?" Rostenkowski was quoted by the Journal. He later told the reporter, "Without Ward Hussey we might as well all go home."

Ward MacLean Hussey was born in Providence, R.I. He graduated from Harvard College in 1940. He later received a master's degree in political science from Columbia University and graduated from Harvard Law School.

During World War II, he served in the Navy and as a Japanese interpreter during the invasion of Okinawa. After his service, he joined the Office of Legislative Counsel in 1946 and had a hand in drafting the Marshall Plan programs that brought economic development to Europe after World War II.

He participated in a massive rewrite of U.S. income tax law in 1954 and legislation that created Medicare. He co-wrote the book "Basic World Tax Code and Commentary."

He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

His marriage to Anne Hutchinson Hussey ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children, Thomas W. Hussey of Alexandria and Carolyn A. Bourdow and Wendy E. Addison, both of Richmond; a sister; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

-- Adam Bernstein

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