Tax Analysts Blog

Rangel Should Resign

Posted on Sep 1, 2009

There's a lot to like about Charlie Rangel. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he's been principled without being doctrinaire, progressive but not polemical. In recent years, he's also been the voice of relative reason in a political arena shot through with partisan claptrap. His scheme for reforming the corporate income tax, for instance, would avoid the false dichotomy between those on the left who would soak corporate America and those on the right who would coddle it.

Nonetheless, I have to agree with Chris Bergin that it's time for Rangel to go. After another round of embarrassing disclosures about his personal finances -- the most recent in a long, dispiriting string -- Rangel should bow to the inevitable and step aside. He's become a distraction at a time when distractions can't be tolerated. The list of issues demanding attention from his committee is already long, starting with health care, and continuing through Social Security, the budget, and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. In the next couple of years, this list will get longer still -- and a lot more urgent. The fiscal crisis facing the nation is about to get worse, and lawmakers will need a strong leader to guide them.

Rangel can't be that leader. His ethical lapses have destroyed his credibility, especially when it comes to tax compliance. If Congress is going to get serious about tax avoidance, can Charlie Rangel plausibly lead the charge? I don't think so.

Piling on Rangel is no fun. The jackals have been circling for months, and now they smell blood. The Wall Street Journal seems barely able to contain its glee, and a range of conservative politicos have lined up to scold, shame, and humiliate Rangel. I want no part of that.

But I do want a functional tax policy process. That's asking a lot, even under the best of circumstances. But it's out of the question when the Democrats' go-to guy on tax issues remains under an ethical cloud.

If he leaves the stage now, Rangel may have to settle for a diminished legacy. But if he sticks around, he seems likely to destroy it entirely.

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