Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) represents one of the poorest congressional districts in New York City. He also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee - the panel that oversees taxes and entitlements. This combination would lead the casual observer to think that Rangel, trying to represent his district, would be aggressively using his chairmanship to redirect President Bush's tax cuts to lower-income people, strengthen and even expand Social Security and renegotiate trade deals to protect American jobs. But, no. That's not what appears to be happening. In the weeks after the congressional election, Rangel has expressed interest in doing the exact opposite: preserving President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy; considering Social Security benefit cuts and retirement age hikes; and supporting lobbyist-written trade pacts that have no wage, environmental or human rights protections in them. He has, in other words, moved to side firmly with the Money Party against the People Party.
Think this is hyperbole? Let's let Rangel speak for himself. At the same time leading conservative Republican commentators like Ben Stein are saying it's time to raise taxes on the rich to pay for the war and the deficit, here's Rangel in the New York Observer yesterday, defending tax cuts to millionaires and falsely claiming Democrats never talked about repealing those tax cuts:
"Here he is, suggesting to a business-minded audience that no Democrat ever campaigned in 2006 on the issue of rolling back Bush's tax cuts. 'How many people heard the Democrats say they were going to roll back the tax cuts for the rich? I didn't hear it, and I listen very carefully...I personally believe that repealing tax cuts that are locked into place, that people have depended on these tax cuts, invested in these tax cuts, not only is it bad tax policy to repeal it retroactively, but it's dumb politics to do it especially when it's going to get vetoed. Forget about it.'"
Here's Rangel on Social Security in the New York Daily News today, saying he will consider proposals to cut benefits and raise the retirement age:
"Raising retirement age or reducing benefits can't be ruled out if the Social Security system is to be saved from going bust, Rep. Charles Rangel said yesterday. 'All of these things are on the table to find some way to make certain that Social Security is solvent,' said Rangel, who is poised to take control of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee."
Trade? Well, it's a bit better, but not much. Here's Businessweek :
"Business may find some unlikely allies in Democrats such as Charles B. Rangel of New York...[Rangel is] a leading Democratic advocate of trade liberalization. Stung by GOP criticism of his votes against recent Bush trade initiatives because they did not include labor and environmental provisions, Rangel wants to extend trade preferences in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Andean nations. With Presidential fast-track trade negotiating authority up for reauthorization in 2007, Rangel says he hopes to work with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab to end the partisanship over trade...He's also seeking business' input on strengthening copyright protection and other intellectual-property issues."
All of this, indeed, makes one's head explode, especially since it is coming just weeks after an election mandate that gives all politicians - especially those from the poorest congressional districts - strong backing to do exactly the opposite of what Rangel is moving to do.
To be sure, Rangel's proposal on the draft was a courageous one. He's absolutely right that one of the reasons our foreign/military policy is so screwed up right now is because a lack of a draft has institutionalized Chickenhawkism - the phenomenon whereby old cloistered Serious People in Washington and the media's courageous 101st Keyboard Brigade, comfortably removed from ever having to serve in combat, push aggressively to have other people's children go off to die or be maimed in wars based on lies. You'd better believe that if, say, the children/relatives of Bill Kristol or Paul Gigot or Tom Friedman or Joe Lieberman or Hillary Clinton were going to be sent off to Baghdad, we would never have invaded Iraq in the first place. And you can bet that if younger, draftable, prime-fighting-age pundits like John Chait and Peter Beinart thought they themselves were going to have to actually be on the frontlines in Iraq carrying out the hawkish policies they so fervently pushed, Washington publications like the New Republic would be leading the cheering section for anti-war protests on the National Mall. As one columnist at the Detroit Free Press said, Congress and Washington insiders are still willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" whenever our commander-in-chief calls us to arms - "just so long as it doesn't come out of our own hides or those of anyone we love."
But beyond the draft issue, Rangel's statements about how he is going to use his chairmanship are quite disturbing. A 60-second look at Rangel's campaign contributions from the industries who are smiling at his statements (financial services, corporate lobbying, etc.) indicates that his behavior undoubtedly has something to do with the recent Time Magazine article headlined "When the Democrats Take Back K Street." The vultures are circling him. All the Democratic Hill staffers now running to the media to brag about how they are cashing out and selling their souls for the truckloads of K Street cash know that the biggest trophy of all is Rangel, because of the power of his committee. And it seems that in just a matter of weeks, these parasites are making Rangel forget about who he actually represents.
Can we wake Rangel back up? I think so. In the time I worked on the Hill, it was pretty clear that he had good intentions. But clearly it is going to take work to remind this guy that Democrats did not get elected so that he could make corporate lobbyists happy.