Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Mel Thomas

I am also saddened by the recent death of long-time Joint Committee on Taxation staffer Mel Thomas. Behind a paywall in Tax Notes, Martin Sullivan has published a tribute that begins as follows:

It was 2 a.m. when Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole wanted details on what boats would be subject to the proposed luxury excise tax. Negotiations were touch-and-go on a $500 billion bill. Only leadership and one staff member were allowed in a small conference room in the U.S. Capitol. Fortunately, that staffer was Mel Thomas, an expert on tax law and on boating.
Whether with a powerful member or a wet-behind-the-ears junior staffer, Mel Thomas always had time to share the encyclopedic knowledge he had gathered through years of study and experience. Mel was a teacher. His classroom was Congress. If he had been a professor, he would have been one of the rare breed who combined a world-class intellect with five-star teaching reviews. His imposing fullback physique did not fool anybody for a second. This old-school gentleman had a heart of gold.
Smart as Solomon. Underpaid. Behind the scenes. Nonpartisan. Dedicated. Hardworking. Never forgot it was a privilege to be on the staff. When the real work began, you wanted Mel in the room.

I got to know Mel when I was on the JCT staff between 1984 and 1987. We didn't work on the same matters, but it was a small staff and he had a large footprint. He was beloved by staffers - but at times less so by lobbyists! - either despite or because of his demanding rigor and excellence. A favorite quote: "You're wrong, but go ahead."

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