Taxing Our Patience

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Recently, The New York Times (Feb. 8) ran a front-page article that quoted a corporation boss as saying that a congressman was “selling one of the most powerful positions in the Congress, if not the government.”

Since then I’ve been waiting for follow-up investigative pieces, with more sordid, devilish details. Those articles, I expected, would be accompanied by fiery editorials demanding that authorities take immediate steps to root out the seeming corruption, and restore confidence in the national government’s allegedly most “democratic” institution. I’ve waited in vain.

According to The Times reporter, Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York is slated to become “chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which shapes tax, Social Security, and Medicare policy,” provided the Democrats win a majority in this year’s elections.

“They throw it at me,” Mr. Rangel said, only half-kidding, about the money he is collecting to win back control of the House for the Democrats.” As chairman of the House tax-writing committee, Rangel would be in a powerful position to help or hurt citizens. For example, Rangel could attempt to reduce taxes on the needy, and make up the shortfall by raising the tax ante to the rich.

In other words Rangel could try to be a kind of tax-collecting Robin Hood. On the other hand, Rangel could follow the well-beaten path and help write tax bills and rules for the likes of those willing and able to fill up campaign coffers.

But can Rangel do both? The Times reporter says that Rangel wants people to believe that he can “juggle the concerns of the poor with the interest of the rich.” The reporter doesn’t provide evidence that Rangel can, but does make clear that whatever Rangel does or doesn’t do to the poor, he’s not going to wound the really wealthy.

For example, the chairman of the banking giant Citigroup says that “when you have an issue, he’s somebody you can talk to. And if what you are saying makes sense, he’s supportive.”

Rangel’s possible elevation to the chair of the tax-writing committee reportedly has attracted “chief executives, who relish a tax cut of any size and usually donate more money to Republicans…”

Rangel admits to sitting down “with a few unnamed, rich corporate heads in luxurious private clubs, simply [he claims] because they wanted to get to know him better.” Rangel also points with satisfaction “to the political friends he has among New York’s banking, Wall Street, and real estate moguls.”

No wonder then that “few Democratic members have helped raise more cash this year than Mr. Rangel…” Indeed, the reporter notes that the Democratic House election group “is awash in money. In a remarkable turnaround, the group had $19.8 million as of Dec. 31, more than double the amount of cash in the bank that its Republican counterparts in the House had.”

None of us should be shocked by political graft and influence peddling by capitalist politicians; it’s been around too long. But we do have every right to be outraged when the establishment press reports such obvious double-dealing, and indifferently goes on to the next story.

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