Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is caught in a bind caused by his ethical lapses. He ought to resign his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, but his boss, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., needs his help and apparently thinks that his exit would be premature.
So House Republicans get to take daily pot shots at Mr. Rangel and Ms. Pelosi and score points with voters rightly concerned about corrupt politicians. Rep. Rangel's refusal to step down may be good for partisans of the GOP, but it's bad for the House as an institution.
The House ethics committee has been slowly grinding through an investigation into numerous charges against Rep. Rangel. Its report is not expected until next year, giving House Democrats an excuse for deferring action.
Rep. Rangel has confessed he failed to report income to the Internal Revenue Service and assets on congressional disclosure forms. He wrote fundraising letters on office stationery in violation of House rules. He reportedly solicited funds from a company for which he sponsored a tax break.
According to the New York Post, he also claimed three different homes as his principal residence in order to obtain tax breaks. He occupied four rare rent-stabilized apartments in a Harlem building courtesy of a landlord who saved him an estimated $30,000 a year in rent. Rep. Rangel did not report that savings as a political contribution, perhaps violating federal election regulations.
Sooner or later, Rep. Rangel must answer these charges, which loom large in view of his role as the chief tax-writer in the House and the overseer of the Internal Revenue Service.
According to Congressional Quarterly, he is already paying a price. In campaign fundraising this year he has brought in only about 15 percent of the money he raised in 2008, less than his campaign fund has spent on legal fees. Speaker Pelosi has limited his authority in various ways, reducing the power enjoyed by his predecessors as chairman.
But the speaker needs his support on health legislation and other priority measures. She wants the House to wait for the ethics committee report before deciding whether to keep Rep. Rangel as chairman or replace him. And he enjoys the support of the Congressional Black Caucus. So Rep. Rangel is hanging in there.
That suits the GOP just fine. "You have not heard any of our members complain about foot-dragging by the ethics committee," a senior GOP aide told Congressional Quarterly.
Rep. Rangel, who has been in the House 39 years, is now a political punching bag.
It would almost be enough to provoke sympathy -- provided he does the right thing and steps down.
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