By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The emergence of U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., as the poster child for congressional corruption could not have come at a worse time for the Democrats or for President Obama. One of the powers behind Nancy Pelosi's drive to become speaker, Rangel is chairman of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, giving him a special role in the oversight of the federal Internal Revenue Service as well making him lord over the U.S. tax code.
An ongoing investigation into Rangel's finances reveals, however, that he has not been exactly candid with the IRS or, for the matter, his congressional colleagues about his real estate holding, sales of stock and his reportable income. The revelations have gotten so embarrassing that the liberal editorial writers at The Washington Post are once again demanding he step aside and surrender his chairman's gavel. They wrote Friday:
Much is expected of elected officials. Much more is expected and demanded of those entrusted with chairmanships and the power that comes with them, especially when it involves the nation's purse strings. From all that we've seen thus far, Mr. Rangel has violated that trust continually and seemingly without care.
The latest round of revelations, stemming from Rangel's amended finance disclosure forms for the years 2002 through 2006, include his failure to report checking accounts at the Congressional Federal Credit Union and Merrill Lynch—each valued at between $250,000 and $500,000, tens of thousands of dollars in earning from stock dividends and mutual funds, and the proceeds from the sale of a townhouse back in his Manhattan-based congressional district.
All told, these latest figures doubled Rangel's estimated net worth, now fixed at somewhere between $1 and $3 million—which is not bad for a guy who has spent almost his entire adult life in elective office.
All this is too much for the normally circumspect John Boehner, leader of the House's GOP minority who, on the same day the Post editorial appeared, wrote a personal letter to Rangel asking him, for the good of the Congress to give up his chairmanship.
When it comes to the relationship between the American people and those they elect to serve them, trust is everything. This is especially true at a difficult time such as this for our nation, when Americans are looking to their government for leadership and solutions, and finding both in short supply. For this reason, I am writing to again respectfully urge that you step aside as chairman of the Committee on Ways & Means until the Ethics Committee has completed a bipartisan investigation of questions relating to your official conduct. ...
As I have noted often in the past year, I have long considered you a friend, and I still do. But friends are not infallible; they make mistakes. And when mistakes are made, particularly in the course of public service, accountability is necessary. Friendship does not trump our obligations to the offices we hold, or to the constituents we serve. The American people have every right to demand that their elected leaders be held to the highest possible standards of ethical conduct in every situation, regardless of a member's political party, personality, or past record. You have a record of long and highly-decorated service, and through your good-natured service, you have earned the friendship and admiration of individuals on both sides of the aisle. It is for precisely this reason that I am urging you to take this action.
If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is smart she will, behind the scenes, follow Boehner's lead. There is too much important legislation that may come before the Ways and Means Committee in the next six months, including the health care reform bill but also legislation that may impose new regulations and codes of conduct on Wall Street, to allow Rangel's ethics to serve as a distraction.