Charlie Rangel: ‘Hell no, I won’t go’

Rep. Charles Rangel (AP)

Democratic Representative Charles Rangel said on Tuesday he was not resigning in the face of ethics charges and asked for an expedited resolution of his case before he has to face voters in November elections.

“I am not going away. I am here,” Rangel said to some applause during a lengthy, rambling speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Rangel, formerly one of the House’s most powerful members as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, apologized for any embarrassment he had caused lawmakers.

The House Ethics Committee charged Rangel with 13 violations last month, including omitting information on financial disclosure forms, using a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign committee, and failure to report income from renting out his villa in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel denied he was corrupt and told House members that if they thought he should resign, they should just expel him.

“If it is the judgment of people here, for whatever reason, that I resign, then heck, have the Ethics Committee expedite this. Don’t leave me swinging in the wind until November,” he said.

“If I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion.”

Democrats have urged the New York lawmaker, one of the most senior members of Congress, to settle the charges to avoid an Ethics Committee trial they fear could hurt them in the November congressional elections where they are struggling to retain their majorities.

‘PROCESS IS MOVING FORWARD’

After Rangel’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a brief statement saying the Ethics Committee was the “proper arena” for such matters to be discussed. She noted the panel was independent and bipartisan — it has five Democrats and five Republicans.

“The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said.

Rangel stepped down in March as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after the ethics panel, in a separate case, admonished him for corporate-sponsored trips in 2007 and 2008, in violation of House gifts rules.

If convicted of the new charges, Rangel could again be admonished or censured. Expulsion would require the approval of the full House, which ethics experts have said seems unlikely.

Rangel complained the investigation had dragged on two years and he had spent $2 million in legal fees but a hearing had still not been set. One is expected in September.

“I’m 80 years old, I don’t want to die before the hearing,” Rangel said. Addressing some specific charges, including soliciting donations on congressional stationery, he said he made mistakes and broke some rules.

“There has to be a penalty for grabbing the wrong stationery and not really doing the right thing, but it’s not corrupt. It may be stupid, it may be negligent, but it’s not corrupt.”

“I apologize for any embarrassment that I’ve caused,” Rangel told the House.

He did not agree with those who thought President Barack Obama had been signaling he should quit. The president recently said the charges against Rangel were “very troubling” and that he hoped Rangel could end his career “with dignity.”

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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Waters: ‘Let’s go public’

Maxine Waters (AFP)

The second Democrat in the House of Representatives to face an ethics trial in the fall wants the charges against her made public and her trial to begin before the November 2 congressional elections, an aggressive defense that may lead to intra-party squabbling.

“I am confident that once the subcommittee report is released and I am able to present my case, my constituents and all Americans will understand that I have not violated any House rules,” U.S. congresswoman Maxine Waters wrote in a Wednesday letter to the House ethics panel.

The panel on Monday said it had found evidence of undisclosed ethics violations by the California lawmaker, who denied breaking any rules in setting up a 2008 meeting between a banker and the U.S. treasury secretary and vowed to contest the allegations in a public trial.

Under the House rules, the charges are to remain sealed until the first procedural meeting of the trial, which is not expected to come until September at the earliest.

Waters said she would be willing to waive her right to secrecy and wants the committee to make the official charges and supporting documents made public.

“I feel strongly that further delay in the scheduling of the hearing violates the fundamental principles of due process, denies my constituents the opportunity to evaluate this case, and harms my ability to defend my integrity,” Waters wrote.

A source familiar with the ethics process said the 10-term lawmaker has been charged with three violations.

Those include violating a rule that lawmakers may not get a personal gain from improper influence and violating a rule that lawmaker conduct must reflect creditably on the House. They also include violating the ethics code of government workers, which bans acceptance of special favors for workers or their family members that could be seen as influencing official actions.

The Waters case comes on the heels of 13 charges against New York’s Charles Rangel, the former head of the tax-writing committee. Rangel’s trial is expected to begin in September.

The two lawmakers are under intense pressure from fellow Democrats to cut a deal to avoid the spectacle of a public trial, though that appears unlikely.

Both Rangel and Waters are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, making the cases highly sensitive as Democrats are working to get a big voter turnout by black Americans, one of their traditional constituencies.

The ethics charges were an embarrassment for Democrats, who face substantial losses in the chamber in November and whose leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had pledged to “drain the swamp” of corruption resulting from a dozen years of Republican domination that ended in 2006.

Democrats hold 255 seats in the House, 77 more than minority Republicans, but are facing a wave of anti-incumbent anger over a weak economy and sustained high unemployment.

Voters will vote for all 435 House seats and choose 37 of 100 senators in the mid-term congressional elections.

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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Health care reform? Sort of, but at what cost?

The rude, crude route to health care “reform” in this country may serve as a textbook case on how and why the American system of government collapsed under the weight of bitter partisan politics.

No side in this contentious debate can claim the high road. Both sides engaged in the lowest form of gutter politics. No one in this vile campaign of partisan pugilism wore a white hat.

The demonstrators in Washington over the weekend punctuated the anger and hate that has dominated the debate: They spit on lawmakers, called African-American Congressmen “niggers” and screamed “faggot” at Rep. Barney Frank, the openly-gay Congressman from Massachusetts. Photoshopped posters portrayed President Barack Obama as an African tribesman or a black Hitler. Abortion foes waved their traditional grusome photos of aborted fetuses.

It was — and in all — an ugly scene dominated by ugly Americans who thrive in what has become an ugly political landscape.

The unruliness extended onto the floor of the House of Representatives where members of Congress shouted at each other and catcalls echoed throughout the chamber. Parliamentary procedure disappeared, drowned out by the din of anger and partisan posturing.

In the end, not one Republican voted for the bill and Democratic leaders had to scramble to try and scrape up enough votes to give Obama his victory but the bill that lands on his desk is a far cry from the lofty campaign promises of true health care reform.

The bill is — at best — a gutted, emasculated morass of back-room deals, capitulations to lobbyists and pandering to special interests — the very people that Obama promised would not be part of his Presidency.

Ironically, the long, torturous path to passage may turn out to be the easy part. Obama must now sell his flawed health care law to a skeptical American public that has serious doubts about the bill and his presidency.

In the end, Obama may learn a painful lesson from an old Chinese proverb:

Be careful what you wish for…you might just get it.

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Democrats defend hardball tactics

Health care protests in St. Louis (AP)

Under heavy Republican attack, Democrats in the House of Representatives on Tuesday defended plans to pass a healthcare overhaul without a direct vote as President Barack Obama‘s top domestic priority neared a make-or-break showdown.

Obama and House Democratic leaders lobbied undecided Democrats for support ahead of a possible weekend vote on the overhaul, which would constitute the biggest change in the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system in four decades.

Democrats are considering using a complicated process to avoid a direct vote on the Senate-passed bill, which is unpopular with House Democrats. Instead, they would declare the Senate bill passed once the House votes to approve changes it wants.

Republicans said the strategy was designed to protect Democrats in November’s congressional elections by camouflaging their vote. “There is no way to hide from this vote,” House leader John Boehner said. “You can run but you can’t hide.”

Democrats noted Republicans used the process when they controlled the House and accused them of trying to change the subject. “If you don’t want to talk about substance, talk about process,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Republicans.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic House campaign committee, said the procedure was “perfectly appropriate” and he was not concerned about a political backlash.

“At the end of the day, what the American people are going to look at is what this bill does to affect their daily lives,” he told reporters.

Pelosi said there would be no decisions on procedure until the Senate bill’s changes are done. Democrats have struggled to find a combination that will win support and lead to favorable cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Democratic House leaders worked on the overhaul into the night in Pelosi’s office, and Pelosi also met with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. House leaders told Democrats to expect votes on either Saturday or Sunday.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, the top Democratic vote-counter in the House, told Fox News that Democrats still do not have the 216 votes needed for passage but he was confident of getting there.

‘WE’LL GET THERE’

“I do not have 216 commitments yet, though I think we’ll get there in time for the vote,” Clyburn said.

The overhaul would extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and ban insurance practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Health insurer shares were up on Tuesday slightly more than the broader market. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index was up 1.6 percent and the S&P Managed Health Care index rose 1.3 percent.

As many as two dozen undeclared Democrats could decide the overhaul’s fate, which has been the focus of a political brawl that has consumed the U.S. Congress for months.

Representative Jason Altmire, who voted against the overhaul in November but is undecided this time, said he has spoken to Obama three times in the last 10 days, including a 10-minute phone conversation on Monday.

“When the president takes the time to personally reach out, it makes an impact,” he told reporters. He said he also heard from several Cabinet officers.

Altmire said the voting procedure being considered by House Democrats would be a negative factor in his evaluation, although other undecided Democrats said it did not matter.

“The media is really focused on process. Most of us are focused on substance,” said Representative Jerry Connolly, another undecided Democrat.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed the public is split on the reform plan, with 46 percent saying it would be better to pass Obama’s plan and 45 percent preferring to keep the system as it is now.

But supporters argued House Democrats, who passed an initial version of the overhaul in November with three votes to spare, should go ahead and finish the job or they could face dire consequences in November’s elections.

“If we pass this bill, we will be judged by the results,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said. “If we don’t pass this bill, we will be judged by the accusations.”

Republicans have condemned the health bill as a costly government takeover that would lead to higher insurance premiums and less consumer choice.

Under the procedure planned for passing the reform overhaul, the House would approve the Senate’s version of the bill. The changes sought by Obama and House Democrats would move through a separate measure.

The House changes would then be approved by the 100-member Senate under budget reconciliation rules that require only a simple majority, bypassing the need for 60 votes to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.

“I feel confident that once the House does its work, we will take care of things over here,” Reid told reporters.

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