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, Representative Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), 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 Rangel may owe $100,000 in back taxes. Roll Call said 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 (D-CA). She said the veil of corruption would be lifted from the House of Representatives. It was dramatic and it was played over and over again.
There is one problem. Representative Rangel remains Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Rangel had a couple of meetings with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Thus far they are standing behind Rangel. The charges keep piling up.
The New York Post reports that Rangel, in contravention of House rules, is keeping a 1972 silver Mercedes in the House garage. Rules require a valid parking permit. Rangel has none. Rules require that a license plate be displayed. It has no plates. House rules forbid the space to be used for storage. Rangel has had the car there for years.
There is something a bit disconcerting about the chief tax-writer in the Congress who tells us he doesn’t understand the tax code. It is just too complex, 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 Pelosi to ask him to resign. She apparently won’t and Minority Leader John A. Boehner’s efforts to force the issue have failed.
Can you imagine any of us telling the IRS that we may owe a tidy sum but we aren’t sure. If you or I used the excuses Rangel uses we would be headed for jail. If we said some folks on our tax team began to speak Spanish so we didn’t understand things so we zoned out. Or claiming we forgot. Or we have no idea.
With Pelosi unwilling to move and Boehner stopped by his own party, it is up to Rangel himself to take the appropriate action.
For the good of the country, and to preserve the integrity of the House of Representatives which you profess to love so much, Mr. Rangel, step aside. If you are cleared you can return. But to remain chairman under these circumstances does a disservice to your country, to the Congress and to you personally.
Step aside now and let the chips fall where they may. If you don’t the Speaker in due course will be forced to remove you. If you wait to be forced out that will be your legacy. Don’t you wish for a better legacy than that?