Chairman Rangel (Democrats are the Party of Corruption)
Mounting embarrassment for taxpayers and Congress makes it imperative that Representative Charles Rangel step aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee while his ethical problems are investigated.
This recommendation does not come easily, considering the New York Democrat’s four decades of service in Congress. But Mr. Rangel himself has felt obliged to request three separate House ethics inquiries of his behavior. While denying serious improprieties, Mr. Rangel concedes that he has not lived up to the “higher standard” expected of members of Congress.
His latest admission is that as chief of Congress’s tax-writing committee, he was “irresponsible” in failing to disclose $75,000 in rental income and pay federal and state taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic.
His temporary yielding of the gavel is an urgent necessity for a Democratic Congress elected two years ago on promises of an ethical housecleaning. The villa dealings only add momentum to the investigations of two earlier controversies — Mr. Rangel’s favored treatment in occupying four rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan, and his improper use of official letterheads to solicit support from charities and corporations for an academic center to memorialize his career in public service.
Mr. Rangel has hurt his case with clumsy, combative pleas of ignorance of the facts and law involving his Dominican villa. “We do make errors, even though we consider ourselves experts in terms of tax policy for the nation,” said the lawmaker, who has three decades’ experience on Ways and Means.
His excuse of “cultural and language barriers” with Dominican officials was, simply, offensive. “Every time I thought I was getting somewhere, they’d start speaking Spanish,” complained Mr. Rangel.
At the least, the disclosures betray that gross sense of entitlement that regularly befalls politicians. At the Dominican villa, which the congressman said he came upon 20 years ago during an overseas trip with Speaker Tip O’Neill, Mr. Rangel eventually saw his 10.5 percent mortgage interest payments waived when the developer favored him as a “Pioneer” early investor.
The powerful congressman has enjoyed his rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem — improperly using one as a campaign office — at about half market value. This is a $30,000-a-year boon, and the ethics committee must decide whether it amounts to a gift from a politically savvy landlord that would violate House rules. The panel must also weigh how badly Mr. Rangel violated official letterhead restrictions.
As a new Congress approaches with a thick docket of fiscal and tax measures, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must see that no cloud hangs over Ways and Means while the chairman is under investigation. The Democratic majority arrived last year promising to “drain the swamp” of corruption epitomized by the previous Republican majority’s quid-pro-quo dealings with Jack Abramoff, the now-imprisoned superlobbyist.