'Temporary' is forever for Rep. Charlie Rangel

Charlie Rangel did the right thing by stepping down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.



About 12 hours after proclaiming he would not leave his post amid findings of ethical violations and a continuing investigation into further allegations he accepted trips paid for by special interests and other misdeeds, Democrat Rangel changed his mind and took what he called a "temporary" leave from the post.

Actually, he had his mind changed for him when Republicans who had been gunning for him for years suddenly found a groundswell of Democrats agreeing it was time for Rangel to give up the post.

And they aren't talking temporarily. There is no provision for vacating a chairmanship temporarily in the House.

He's toast.

Rangel blames his staff for not telling him that trips to the Bahamas were paid for by corporations. But the House ethics committee said he broke the rules. And those staffers say that, oh, yes, they did inform the congressman.

His problems are bigger than just that, of course.

He may be accused of breaking the law.

Rangel is also accused of misuse of rent-controlled apartments he owns in New York and failure to disclose income from rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic.

Worse, there are reports he gave a tax loophole to an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, in exchange for a $1 million gift to the Charles Rangel Center at City College of New York.

Creating a tax loophole is an art form perfected by former House Ways and Means chairman Dan Rostenkowski, a Chicago Democrat.

Well, maybe not perfected.

Rostenkowski spent much of his time as Ways and Means chairman getting a reform package through Congress. The reforms had so many tax breaks for corporations, including many in and around Chicago, that it was a national embarrassment.

He was sentenced to 17 months in a federal prison for his part in the House Post Office scandal of 1994. Believe it or not, all those corporate tax breaks were legal.

Many Republican members of the House had been pushing for action against Rangel. He shrugged them off. But when Democrats began calling for a strong inquiry into his misdeeds, he had no choice but to cave.

He said he didn't want to be a distraction for the Democrats running for re-election in November.

Stepping down was the right thing to do.

But he can't really think he won't be a huge talking point this fall, and not just in his home district.