THE 'RANGEL RULE',TREAT US ALL LIKE CHARLIE Rangel: Got a free pass on tax penalties.

FOR decades, Texas lawyers have used the "Hobby Rule" to win the immediate release of clients arrested on DWI charges. American taxpayers now deserve similar protection under my proposed "Rangel Rule."

First, the background: Longtime Texas Lt.-Gov Bill Hobby was locked up one night for driving under the influence, but immediately released when his attorney came down to point out the high status of the fellow.

When news of this special treatment slipped out, the court tried to defend itself by saying it was standard procedure to release a suspect into the custody of an attorney - though everyone knew any regular DWI inmate would have been held for bond or trial.

Ever since, Texas lawyers have been showing up to spring their inebriated clients by exercising this previously unknown "Hobby Rule." It's standard legal procedure to this day.

American taxpayers could win the same get-out-of-jail-free pass, thanks to the ongoing legal saga of my friend and colleague, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-Harlem), and new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Chairman Rangel admitted on the floor of the House that he had for years failed to pay tax on rental income from his resort property in the Caribbean. He apologized for this "oversight" and agreed to pay his back taxes - but has paid no interest or penalties.

Secretary Geithner admitted in his Senate confirmation hearings he had for years failed to pay taxes on his income from the International Monetary Fund, even though the IMF sent him checks and instructions to pay those taxes. He also called this an "oversight," has paid no penalties and faces no charges.

As a former practicing attorney and a Texas state judge for two decades, I can tell you: If that was you or me, we'd be socked with penalties and interest many times the amount of the original tax. In a case like Geithner's, I suspect we'd likely face criminal charges as well.

But Rep. Rangel is the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the IRS. And Geithner is secretary of the treasury - the boss of the IRS. Just like Bill Hobby, these two high-status fellows have received a little different treatment than the common taxpayer.

We either need to hold Chairman Rangel and Secretary Geithner fully accountable under the law - or we need a national "Hobby Rule" for taxpayers.

Last week, I introduced the Rangel Rule Act of 2009 (HR 735). Under this bill, any US citizen who owes back taxes can pay them and automatically waive all interest and penalties by writing "Rangel Rule" on their return.

I believe this would restore equal treatment for working Americans - and serve as an economic stimulus by restoring millions in pending IRS penalties and interests to the free-market economy.

We all need to stay sober and pay our taxes. But if we fall short, we ought to be treated the same. In Texas, that means using the Hobby Rule after one too many. Across America, it should mean using "The Rangel Rule" after failing to pay the IRS.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) is secretary of the House Republican Conference.

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