Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Democratic congressman who writes the tax code will be meeting the tax collector. Republicans couldn’t be happier.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the gravelly voiced chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, discovered that he owes back taxes on rental income from his Dominican Republic beach villa.

Republicans, in the minority in both the House and Senate, desperately needed a new Democratic scandal. Before Mr. Rangel’s ethics troubles became known - and there has been no finding of wrongdoing - the GOP was trailing 7-2 in the most serious corruption tally: lawmakers indicted or convicted since 2000.

For more details, you can Google congressional Republicans Ted Stevens, Rick Renzi, Larry Craig, Bob Ney, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Tom DeLay and William Janklow. To make the Googling bipartisan, also see Democrats William Jefferson and James Traficant.

So far, Mr. Rangel has given Republicans these political gifts:

cAn estimated tax bill of $5,000 from undeclared rental income at the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

cA recent photo of the congressman, 78, fast asleep in a lounge chair at the resort, an arm dangling onto the sand.

cUse of official stationery to reach out to potential donors for an educational center named after - who else? - himself.

cUse of a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem as a campaign office.

Republican leaders are demanding that Mr. Rangel get booted from his chairmanship - payback for the hammering they took from Democrats on the corruption issue.

Former Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s affection for young male pages was one reason that House Republicans’ 229-202 majority evaporated in the 2006 election. The Democrats are running the place now, with a majority of 235-199.

Mr. Rangel has so far resisted Republican attempts to separate him from the chairmanship of his tax-writing committee, but says he’s willing to take his medicine if wrongdoing is found.

Every time a new allegation appears in the media, Mr. Rangel has a solution: Send it to the House ethics committee.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as it’s formally named, has its Rangel work piling up as the panel of five Democrats and five Republicans is operating with an acting chairman and an acting chief counsel.

It was never known for speed anyway, sometimes taking years on major investigations. Most of its members don’t want to be there.

Just ask Rep. Howard L. Berman, the California Democrat who reluctantly returned to the committee in 2006 to untangle a bitter partisan deadlock.

“An honor I could do without,” he said upon rejoining the unpopular committee. After navigating the supersensitive Foley case, which focused on teenagers under the House’s care, Mr. Berman hightailed it out of the committee’s Capitol basement offices for good.

If history is any guide, committee Democrats will be reluctant to spend their time investigating one of their most powerful chairmen.

Congress is set to go home in two weeks so members can campaign for the Nov. 4 elections.

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