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The House Ways and Means Committee, which has the exclusive power to write our tax laws, is one of the most powerful committees in Congress and its chairman is, e officio, one of that body’s most powerful lawmakers.
That post is currently held by Charles Rangel, a long serving — 38 years — and popular New York Democrat. He is a skilled chairman but apparently considerably less skilled at managing his personal finances.
He recently admitted that he had neglected to disclose $75,000 in rental income from a beachfront villa he has owned for 20 years in the Dominican Republic and owes about $5,000. And somehow his mortgage has been interest free for the last 10. He improbably attributed this oversight to problems communicating with Spanish-speaking officials. Considering the makeup of his New York City district, it should not have come as a surprise that Dominicans speak Spanish.
And, it turned out, he had come into possession of four rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan, meaning he paid considerably below the market rate. Three of the apartments were combined as his residence and the fourth was improperly used as a campaign office.
And there are other problems. According to the Associated Press, his required disclosure forms omit the sale of a house owned in Washington; the details of a property he owns in Florida are "bewildering at best" with wildly varying valuations of the property; and the entries for some investment funds "fluctuate strangely."
Rangel has asked the House ethics committee to investigate his finances and that panel, so badly abused under the Republicans, could go a long way toward redeeming itself by doing a thorough investigation of a powerful Democrat. And Rangel has promised to help by hiring a forensic accountant to make sense of his finances and filings over the last 20 years and report back to the committee.
The Republicans are demanding that Rangel resign — or be removed — as chairman. That seems a bit extreme. Sloppy personal record keeping — if that’s all it is should not be a disqualifier although it’s hardly confidence inspiring. A proposal by Rangel’s hometown newspaper, The New York Times, that he step aside pending the outcome of the investigation seems a reasonable course.