- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Republicans lost control of the Congress two years ago in part because of corruption. Some members had to step aside because indictments hung over their heads. The Republicans years ago changed the rules governing their own members. They ruled that anyone who was indicted had to step aside. The Democrats did not change their rules.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, has been accused by the New York Times of paying below market rents on four New York apartments (while entitled to only one) and of failing to report income or pay federal taxes on a beachfront property. His attorney, Lanny Davis, says Mr. Rangel may owe $100,000 in back taxes. Roll Call said Mr. Rangel may have misstated the value of a condominium he sold in Florida.

I can still see in my mind’s eye the clip from the inaugural speech of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. She said the veil of corruption would be lifted fromthe House of Representatives when the Democrats took over in 2006. It was dramatic and it was played over and over again. There is one problem. Mr. Rangel remains chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He has had a couple of meetings with Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Thus far the Democratic leadership is standing behind Mr. Rangel.

The charges keep piling up. The New York Post reports that Mr. Rangel, in contravention of House rules, is keeping a 1972 silver Mercedes in the House garage. Rules require a valid parking permit. Mr. Rangel has none. Rules require that a license plate be displayed. It has no plates. House rules forbid using the space for storage. Mr. Rangel has had the car there for years.

There is something a bit disconcerting when the chief tax-writer in the Congress tells us he doesn’t understand the Tax Code. It is just too complex, Mr. Rangel tells us. There is hardly a taxpayer in the United States who itemizes who would disagree with that statement.

The whole episode is cause enough for Mrs. Pelosi to ask him to resign. She apparently won’t and the efforts of Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to force the issue have failed.

Can you imagine any of us telling the Internal Revenue Service that we may owe a tidy sum but we aren’t sure how much? If you or I used the excuses Mr. Rangel uses we would be headed for jail. What if we said some folks on our tax team had begun to speak in Spanish and we didn’t understand what was being said so we zoned out? Or we, somehow, just forgot. Or we had no idea what was happening. With Mrs. Pelosi unwilling to move and Mr. Boehner constrained by his own party, it is up to Mr. Rangel himself to take the appropriate action.

For the good of the country and to preserve the integrity of the House of Representatives that he professes to love so much, he should step aside. If cleared, he can return. But to remain chairman under these circumstances does a disservice to the country, to Congress and Mr. Rangel personally.

Let him step aside now and let the chips fall where they may. If he doesn’t, the speaker in due course will be forced to remove him. If he waits to be forced out that will be his legacy. Doesn’t he wish for a better legacy than that?

Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and chief executive officer of the Free Congress Foundation.


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