Mark Prater '81 staffs the tough but important U. S. Senate Committee on Finance. It's a pressure cooker job, but he has stayed with it for 14 years and through three strong chairmen.
Prater became the committee's chief tax counsel when Sen. Robert Packwood was chair. Packwood was one of the architects of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which Prater describes as the last major tax reform effort. From 1995 to 2001, he worked with then chair, the late Sen. William Roth, Jr., co-author of the Roth IRA.
Prater now advises Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is working to reform the pension system, provide tax relief for families with children, and lower marginal tax rates across the board.
Given the shifting personalities and the rigors of the Finance Committee's work, staff turnover is high. In fact, Prater is the only staff member remaining from the Packwood era. He attributes his longevity in part to the committee's interest in maintaining continuity.
"There's a lot of detailed, deliberate compromising as a part of the tax code," he says. "It's helpful to have someone who knows the story behind why something turned out the way it did."
Prater stays because he still finds the job compelling, and it offers a unique position for a tax lawyer. He earned a law degree from Willamette University and a master of laws in taxation from University of Florida.
Tax lawyers typically work to show the implications of the law, but Prater's job is the only one where a tax lawyer can actually change the law. He enjoys being able to make a difference.
"Tax law affects everyone, "says Prater. "With so many competing issues at stake, you have to find a way to balance between the way a law affects various groups of people."
He admits that politics can be frustrating at times, especially when they ensnare an act that he believes is good policy. Prater has found, however, that if a proposal has merit and support, it will eventually make its way into law. --Kelli Fields