Ex-Sen. Roth Dies of Heart Failure

Posted December 15, 2003 at 10:10am

Former Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.), the man whose name will be forever linked with the popular retirement account, died Saturday from heart failure. He was 82.

During his 34 years in Congress, Roth championed tax cuts and was a relentless watchdog on the prowl for government agencies abusing taxpayer money. He led high-profile investigations of both the Internal Revenue Service and the Defense Department and later wrote a book about his IRS probe titled “The Power to Destroy.”

Among his more sensational discoveries was evidence that the Pentagon paid the incredible sums of $9,600 for a wrench and $640 for a toilet seat. In an ironic holiday twist, he once decorated a Christmas tree with screws, nuts and wrenches he asserted would have cost $101,119 at Defense Department prices.

In 1981, Roth and then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) partnered to create the Kemp-Roth tax cut — legislation seen as a key part of what would become known as supply-side economics, or “Reaganomics.” In 1997, Roth realized perhaps his greatest achievement with the passage of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which saw the creation of the Roth Individual Retirement Account. The Roth IRA allows individuals to invest taxable income that could later be withdrawn tax-free in retirement.

The former chairman of both the Finance and Governmental Affairs committees also co-sponsored environmental legislation and served as chairman of the Senate NATO Observer Group.

A Montana native, Roth attended college at the University of Oregon and served in Army intelligence during World War II before going on to earn both a master’s and a law degree from Harvard. In 1954, he moved to Delaware.

Six years after an inauspicious political start (Roth lost a bid for Delaware lieutenant governor in 1960) he trumped Democratic Rep. Harris McDowell for the First State’s lone House seat. He was elected to the Senate in 1970.

Thirty years later, Roth, then the third oldest member of the Senate, was denied a sixth term by former Gov. Tom Carper (D).

Roth is survived by his wife, Judge Jane Richards Roth, two children and four grandchildren. A public memorial service will be held Sunday at the University of Delaware.