Democrats must realize that Rangel is tainted

  • Updated: September 22, 2009 - 11:38 AM

Mounting ethics issues cut into his credibility in a key health care role.

In the subzero cold of late November 1950, south of the Yalu River near the village of Kunu-ri in what now is North Korea, Pvt. 1st Class Charlie Rangel, though wounded by shrapnel, helped lead 40 of his fellow soldiers from the U.S. Army's 503rd Field Artillery Battalion in a daring three-day escape from encirclement by the Chinese Army.

For this he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with Valor Device. In an interview with CBS News in 2000, Rangel -- by then U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y. -- said, "Since Kunu-ri, and I mean this with all my heart, I have never, never had a bad day."

That day might be coming.

Rangel is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for a series of violations: Failing to declare more than $650,000 in assets on his 2007 financial disclosure forms; illegally maintaining three rent-subsidized apartments in New York; soliciting funds on congressional stationery for a think tank bearing his name; claiming three separate homes as primary residences; failing to pay property taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic, and failing to report $75,000 worth of income from a condo in Florida. He's even accused of using a coveted Capitol parking space to store a vintage Mercedes-Benz.

All from the man in charge of writing the nation's tax laws.

Rangel, 79, has been a member of Congress since 1971, representing a district centered in Harlem and compiling one of the most liberal voting records in the House.

In 2006, he proposed what we -- and very few other people -- thought was a good idea: reimposing the draft to make sure that when presidents and Congress decide to go to war, sons and daughters from privileged families would share the risk.

He's also, shall we say, been dabbling in real estate on the side.

The House Ethics Committee has been taking its sweet time investigating these charges, though to be fair, new ones keep cropping up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been resisting Republican calls for suspending Rangel's chairmanship of the crucial Ways and Means Committee.

But that is precisely why Rangel should give up his gavel voluntarily or have it seized. At some point, Ways and Means will have to figure out a way to pay for health care reform. Doing so with ethical challenges hanging over the chairman's head will make it more difficult.

And let's face it: When the Republicans controlled the House, Pelosi and other Democrats made a big deal over the ethical lapses of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and some of his GOP colleagues. "We're going to drain the swamp," she pledged.

The swamp still is dank and fetid. Pelosi can expect voters to remember that in next year's congressional elections. Ethical standards should not be partisan matters.

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