A legislative master at work

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Nov. 30 obituary for Ward M. Hussey ["Longtime Capitol Hill counsel oversaw drafting of legislation"] brought to mind a scene from 1977. Several of us from the Treasury Department and James Schlesinger's White House Energy Office were gathered in a small room at the Capitol to discuss with Mr. Hussey our proposed tax legislation as part of President Jimmy Carter's national energy plan. He wrote on a blackboard a draft provision on which we had labored for weeks, smiled, scratched the back of his head and asked: "Now, how will those clever people in New York get the benefit of this provision without producing or conserving any energy?" In a flash, he came up with several ways they could do it. Our jaws dropped in awe, and our heads sank in embarrassment. The process continued through other provisions. Later, we worked with him and his staff to produce legislation that, as a professional matter, was greatly improved.

Drafting tax legislation is among the most intellectually difficult tasks a lawyer can be called on to perform. Compared with drafting a legal brief or opinion letter, when it is done right it is as poetry is to prose. The pressure on every word is intense: It's Ward Hussey (or one of his successors) against all those clever people in New York (and elsewhere).

He was a master of his art, what the Japanese call a living national treasure, an inspiration to others who strive to achieve excellence. And he put his consummate skill to the service of the public.

Richard M. Cooper, Washington

© 2009 The Washington Post Company