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Bill Bradley, champion of bipartisan tax reform, awarded 2018 SIEPR Prize

The three-term Democratic senator worked across party lines to close loopholes, lower rates and simplify the tax code.

Bill Bradley, the former Democratic senator who was instrumental in crafting the bipartisan tax reform bill of 1986, is this year’s recipient of the SIEPR Prize. He will receive the award during an event hosted at Stanford on April 5.

Bill Bradley

The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) gives the award every other year to a scholar or policymaker who has deeply influenced economic policy.

“We are delighted to honor Bill Bradley with the SIEPR Prize,” said Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of SIEPR and the Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics at Stanford. “His tireless efforts on behalf of better economic policy throughout his Senate career and in the years since helped to improve America’s living standards and to enhance our economic growth.”

Bradley served as a senator from New Jersey from 1979 to 1997. During his tenure, the one-time forward for the New York Knicks sat on the Senate Finance Committee and developed a reputation as a lawmaker comfortable with delving into policy work and working across party lines.

“I’m honored to receive the SIEPR Prize," Bradley said. "SIEPR’s commitment to data-driven research can have a real impact in sound economic policymaking, and I’m proud to be recognized by the institute."

Bradley played a key role in reforming the federal tax code in 1986, while Republicans controlled the Senate and White House, and Democrats led the House. He co-authored the “Fair Tax Plan” with House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt in 1982. The legislative proposal championed broadening the tax base through loophole closing with simpler, lower tax rates. Eventually, it became the framework for Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform. The Senate passed the bill in the summer of 1986 with only three opposing votes.

The 1986 reform simplified the tax system and shrunk the number of tax brackets from 15 to four. It reduced marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations and lowered the capital gains rate. About 6 million low-income families were exempted from federal income taxes by an expansion of the standard deduction, personal exemption and earned income tax credits.

By closing billions of dollars in personal and corporate tax loopholes, the tax reform act remained revenue neutral.

“The 1986 act was a remarkable bipartisan accomplishment,” said John Shoven, a former director of SIEPR and the Charles R. Schwab Professor of Economics at Stanford. “It reflected the ideas of economists and politicians across the political spectrum. But, perhaps the most important behind-the-scenes figure was Senator Bradley. It was a significant contributor to the strong economic growth for the subsequent 15 years.”

Bradley made a presidential bid after leaving the Senate, losing to Al Gore in the 2000 Democratic primary. He has written seven books on American politics, culture and the economy, including “We Can All Do Better,” which tackles how to overcome a national sense of frustration and cynicism by encouraging more civic participation.

Bradley earned his bachelor’s degree in American history from Princeton and a master’s from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He grew up in Crystal City, Mo., where he started playing basketball. He was one of the country’s top college basketball players at Princeton and was tapped for the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1964. The team won a gold medal, and Bradley signed with the Knicks in 1967. In 1982 — five years after leaving professional basketball and winning two NBA championships — he was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bradley is now a managing director of Allen & Company LLC, a member of the board of directors of Starbucks, and the host of “American Voices,” a weekly show on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

And he’s no stranger to Stanford. Bradley was the Payne Distinguished Professor at the university’s Institute for International Studies (now the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies) during the 1997-98 academic year. And in 2001, he was chosen to deliver the address at the Class Day luncheon for seniors and their families during Commencement weekend.

The SIEPR Prize was inspired and first funded by George Shultz, who served as President Richard Nixon's budget director and secretary of Labor and Treasury and later led the State Department in the Reagan administration.

“Naming Bill Bradley the 2018 SIEPR Prize winner is an inspired choice,” said Shultz, who is the honorary chair of SIEPR’s advisory board.

Recipients of the SIEPR Prize are selected by Shultz, Duggan, Shoven and Jim Poterba, president of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Since the program's founding in 2010, the SIEPR Prize has been awarded to Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman; Martin Feldstein, a Harvard professor and former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors; Stanley Fischer, former governor of the Bank of Israel, and vice chairman of the Federal Reserve; and Alice Rivlin, a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and founding director of the Congressional Budget Office.

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