Of course, one of the biggest tax stories of the year would hit while I was on the road… But never fear, I’m on it.
And by biggest, I mean huge.
Representative Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) has been dodging ethics complaints left and right for a few years now. It’s made news for a few reasons, the most notable of which being that many of the complaints involve tax compliance issues – this from a man who chairs the committee that writes tax policy in our country. Rangel has denied wrongdoing and shrugged off other charges as mere oversights. And incredibly, his own party has stood behind him through it all.
The issues grew more serious last week when Rangel was admonished for violating gift rules in Congress. Rangel had accepted corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. The trips to Antigua, Barbuda, and St. Maarten were organized by charity but underwritten by corporations like AT&T and Verizon. He claimed, miraculously, that he didn’t know it was wrong (Charlie, can you hear me now?).
The admonishment sent Democrats scrambling. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who, when voted into power, had vowed to run the cleanest House in recent history found herself dodging major criticisms after defending Rangel following the public rap on the wrist.
Sensing that public opinion was firmly on their side, Republicans planned to force a vote to remove Rangel from his position as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Widely considered the most powerful committee person on the Hill, a public ousting would likely have ended Rangel’s career. So he decided to remove himself on Wednesday – just after swearing that he wouldn’t the night before. The move was considered temporary (at least as far as Rangel was concerned) but Republicans asked for – and got – confirmation that his action would be considered a resignation and not a leave of absence.
After a brief power struggle, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-MI) was voted in as the new chair. Levin, elected to the House in 1982, is in his 14th term in Congress.
With a significant power shift like this, you’d think the Democrats would offer up some well-written statement to make us feel better. Something full of hope, something to inspire us, something that says that this was the right thing to do so that the House can get on with the important issues of the day. And yet, Rep. Pelosi offered up this gem:
Chairman Charlie Rangel has informed me of his request for a leave of absence from his duties and responsibilities as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. I will honor his request.
I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day.
Way to sound powerful there, Nancy.
In the midst of all of this, there is some goodness. Perhaps with Rangel and his whole set of baggage pushed to the back burner, the Ways and Means Committee can actually get some work done. There is, after all, the small matter of a ginormous deficit to tackle – and expiring tax cuts on the horizon. Back to tax policy, maybe?