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Last Week's Hearst New York Times Column

(WRITER'S NOTE: Under the arrangement with the syndicators, these newspaper columns appear here a week after their release)

^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=November 24, 2010

WASHINGTON_ It was a beaten Charlie Rangel who pleaded for mercy from the members of the House Ethics Committee but didn't get it last week. Now the veteran New York Democrat faces a censure vote by the full House of Representatives for his violations of the rules.

Assuming that he loses that vote, too, he faces searing ignominy. Censure is a big deal. The Congressional Research Service officially defines it as ``...a formal vote by the majority of Members present and voting on a resolution disapproving a Member’s conduct, with generally the additional requirement that the Member stand at the `well’ of the House chamber to receive a verbal rebuke and reading of the censure resolution by the Speaker of the House.’’

Imagine the disgrace of the 80-year-old Rangel, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, a 40-year member of the House, standing before the podium, the other members and the world, via TV, while his demeaning punishment is read to him.
He will become the 23rd House member in history to be censured.

Already he has apologized to his colleagues ``...for the embarrassment I have caused you,’’ which is a far cry from his defiance last summer. That's when the charges against him were formalized, among them that he solicited big money for his Charles B. Rangel Public Policy Center in New York from donors who had special interest in legislation and that he sometimes used official letterhead for his fundraising.

Back then he insisted he was doing nothing that his colleagues also didn't do. He thundered about a new normal where they ``...change the rules.’’ Unfortunately, he is right about that. Members of Congress have long sought money from the special interests seeking favors so they can construct their monuments to themselves. Of course, we’re not even discussing campaign contributions from donors with particular interests in legislation.


On the topic of monuments, Rangel cited Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who has accumulated contributions for his McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. ``I don't see any comparability to the Rangel matter,’’ says McConnell, going on to insist he ``didn't benefit from it in any way.’’ That's exactly the claim that Rangel had made.

Next up for her day in this non-court of the House ethics committee is Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., also a fixture in Congress. The allegations against her are that she arranged a meeting with top Treasury Department officials and the association that represents minority-owned banks to pressure the government for TARP money on behalf of a minority-owned Boston-based bank that had a questionable financial record. At the time, her husband owned more than $350,000 in the bank's stock. Waters asserts this was not about financial self-serving but ``about access.’’

She too has a point. All too often ``access’’ to the government is something that is bought and paid for.

Both Rangel and Waters are Democrats and the accusations against them were pushed by the Democrats' Speaker-of-the House Nancy Pelosi, whose aide Brendan Daly repeated to me his boss' mantra that she wanted to ``drain the swamp.’’

The new House Speaker will be John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has a very cozy relationship with the big money lobbyists himself and who has apologized in years past for the infamous 1995 incident where he was caught passing out checks from tobacco companies to pliant fellow Republicans on the floor of the House.

But maybe it's a different day. Maybe the congressional newcomers mean it when they say that if things don't change in Washington, they'll, in the current vernacular, ``opt out’’ and bring government to a grinding halt.

It will be interesting to see how they do in a legislative environment where things get done by wheeling and dealing. Like so many before them, they come to Congress insisting that they won't compromise _ but then they're compromised. Ask Charlie Rangel, who came in 40 years ago...as a reformer.
(E-mail: bob(at)hearstdc.com); on the Web: www.bobfranken.tv)


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