Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has collected tax and ethics scandals the way some people collect stamps (in big batches, that is), sits atop the House Ways and Means Committee because neither the Speaker of the House nor his colleagues have the nerve to kick him out. If you have lost track of the Rangel scandal, the collection includes failure to report $75,000 in rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic on federal and state tax returns, pushing through a tax loophole for an oil-drilling company whose CEO pledged $1 million to a City College of New York school in Rangel’s name, using congressional letterhead to solicit support for his Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York (which also snagged a $1.9 million earmark), using rent-stabilized apartments that evaded the residency requirements, improperly funding trips to the Caribbean in possible violation of House rules, and failing to disclose $1.3M in income.
He’ll be a poster boy for corruption in the 2010 race the way Tom Delay was in 2oo6 and Dan Rostenkowski was in 1994. (The House post-office scandal seems almost quaint, doesn’t it?) But the party in power never sees it that way prospectively; the incumbents’ natural tendency is to circle the wagons and hope it all blows over.
Today we had another episode: Republicans have forced two previous votes on Rangel, and each time he’s been spared from removal as Ways and Means chairman. This time it was Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) who brought a motion to oust Rangel from his chairmanship. The Democrats came up with a procedural maneuver to table it on a 243-156 vote. (Note that 13 Republicans voted present and six didn’t bother to vote at all. Hmm.) Well, no one expected this to pass. It was simply one more vote for the ads of 2010 and one more headache for any Democrat in an unsafe seat who now has to explain to the electorate those votes sparing Rangel.
And speaking of the electorate, what do they think of all this? Corruption (safe to say Rangel fits in that category) has been moving up on the list of voters’ concerns. According to Rasmussen, more people rank corruption as an important issue than they do the economy or health care.
“Wave” elections tend to have multiple causes. But a common theme has been corruption — which provides added motivation to “throw the bums out.” As we get closer to 2010, Democrats might look back wistfully on the vote today and wonder why they didn’t throw Rangel overboard. And Republicans might be quietly thrilled they didn’t.