In Wake Of Washington Post Report, Charlie Rangel Should Resign As Chairman

The biggest story on Capitol Hill today was the Washington Post's bombshell, "Dozens in Congress under ethics inquiry". You've no doubt heard the story by now: an internal House Ethics Committee report from July was accidentally placed on a publicly-accessible computer by a low-level staffer and made its way into the Post's hands. The report documents over thirty ongoing committee investigations. The Post has yet to post the full document or name all the lawmakers on its webpage, so Capitol Hill is certainly abuzz.  

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner have issued a rare joint-statement pledging to look into computer security, but the unfortunate lapse of confidence is not the story the public will care about. The story that will stick is that over thirty lawmakers are under investigation. The story is that if Washington - a Democratic Washington - can't be trusted to be ethical, than it can't be trusted to touch health care or financial regulations. It doesn't matter if that's true or not; it's still the story. It's what's sexy and it's what people will remember.

Many of these investigations were already well known, and many of the names have already been cleared. Doesn't matter. Most people aren't bloggers, political junkies, or Hill staffers. Most people catch only the broad headlines, and "ethics investigation" is a tough headline from which to recover. This story will fan the populist anti-Washington flames at a time when Democratic Washington requires public confidence to help it effectively address a myriad of national and international problems.

Few things tick me off more than corrupt politicians. They violate the public's trust, tarnish what could be an honorable profession, and often steal our money. They also distract us from what really matters. When Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, climate change, health care reform, job creation, and financial regulations are quite literally all in a day's work, corrupt politicians who undermine our confidence in government are the last thing Americans need.

Speaker Pelosi needs to take the type of action her predecessors, Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay, never took. It has to be the type of action the public, not her Members, will care about. She needs to take a hard line against a symbol of corruption, and that symbol may well be House Ways & Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY). The long-running investigation into Rangel is quite well-known, but the leaked document contained new information about it. According to the Post,

Rangel said he spoke with ethics committee staff members regarding a conference that he and four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended last November in St. Martin. The trip initially was said to be sponsored by a nonprofit foundation run by a newspaper. But the three-day event, at a luxury resort, was underwritten by major corporations such as Citigroup, Pfizer and AT&T. Rules passed in 2007, shortly after Democrats reclaimed the majority following a wave of corruption cases against Republicans, bar private companies from paying for congressional travel.

A personal anecdote about Rangel. I was Senator Max Baucus' agriculture intern during conference meetings for the 2008 Farm Bill - a job so low on the totem pole as to actually be beneath it, yes, but still a good gig for learning one's way around the Hill. At the first conference meeting, I recall Rangel running his mouth off in a way that made absolutely no sense. He was talking about things that weren't in the bill, distorting things that were, and making strange accusations about his fellow Democrats. It was basically just babble. After the meeting, I asked another Member's staffer who I knew what Rangel meant by all that. The staffer told me, "I have no idea - I wasn't listening. One of the first things I learned when I got here was don't listen to a thing Charlie Rangel says." I paid a little more attention to the staffers at the next meeting, and sure enough, when Rangel began talking, everyone began clicking away on their Blackberries.

The word I have typically used to describe Rangel is "buffoon." That might be too harsh. I don't know if the man is corrupt or not. Some say he's just absent-minded and forgets important paperwork. Maybe - he does seem like the type to get lost in his own fog. But the reasons why he has failed to report income and misused apartments don't matter. What matters is the action, not the motive.

Markos and Arianna Huffington have both called for Rangel to step down as chairman of Ways & Means. I join them in that call. That might be unfair to Rangel - innocent until proven guilty and all that - but it would be precisely what the country needs. Fair or not, the man has become a symbol. By asking Rangel to temporarily step down until the ethics investigation is completed, Speaker Pelosi could set aside distractions and send a bold signal to the country that this Congress means business and that the leaked Ethics report is just an aberration - a signal that would be very helpful at a time she and the President seek to gather support for health care reform and clean energy legislation.

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Reid was right to reject "the trigger". This is war.

Even if Harry Reid knew he didn't have 60 votes locked up, Reid made the right choice. Even if the White House worried that he didn't have 60 votes, he made the right call. The corporate centrists in our Party have too long grown accustomed to winning through refusal. Their refusal to even allow serious discussion of a Single Payer plan was just one recent example.

We are essentially in a state of war regarding health care. About as many Americans die annually as a consequence of poor or non existent health care insurance as died during the entire Viet Nam war. Our adversary, many would say enemy, is the private health care insurance cartel. They run the system that is responsible for those deaths. Not only do they run it, they profit off it, which makes them war profiteers in my book.

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CBO: Robust Public Option lowers deficit the most

This is potentially very good news for the "robust public option" that has been claimed dead but is still alive and kicking. ew

CBO finds Dem bill with public option reduces deficit

A preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office projects that the House Democrats' health care plan that includes a public option would cost $871 billion over 10 years, according to two Democratic sources.

CBO also found that the Democrats' bill reduces the deficit in the first 10 years.

This new CBO estimate, which aides caution is not final, is significantly less than the $1.1 trillion price tag of the original House bill that passed out of three committees this summer. More importantly, it comes under the $900 billion cap set by President Obama in his joint address to Congress last month.

The bill WITH the public option would actually reduce the deficit?  That should be music to the ears of deficit-hawkish blue dog Democrats and Republicans alike.

Senior Democratic aides told CNN that House Democratic leaders are likely to put this version of the public option favored by liberal Democrats in the final bill they are drafting. While no final decision has been made, on Tuesday night Speaker Pelosi made the case to House Democrats that this approach saves the most money and would put the House in a better negotiating position when it comes time to negotiate a final health care bill with the Senate.

Right on.  Why would we not put the bill out there that saves the most money, reduces the deficit by the largest measure?  

Moderate, "blue dog" Democrats in the House largely oppose the robust public option and instead argue for a government run insurance option that could negotiate reimbursement rates directly with doctors and hospitals. CBO's analysis of that approach was not available according to Democratic sources, but aides say the preliminary analysis shows it does not save as much as the approach pushed by Pelosi.

Look at that.  The Blue Dog's approach does "not save as much." Yet, it is favored by them anyway.  Not because of budgetary motivations, obviously, but because they are in bed with the health insurance industry, having to give legislative payback for the money received from the various anti-reform tentacles of the industry.   At least after the CBO report comes out on Wednesday they will not have high-minded budget-hawkery to hide behind anymore.

The robust public option provides the largest deficit reduction over 10 years.  PERIOD.  

Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans need to come clean about their true motivation here.  Deficit and budget concerns can no longer be used to explain their opposition to the public option, now that the CBO is releasing their calculated estimates that the "robust public option" plan would provide the largest deficit reduction.

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Pelosi Is No Albatross

Markos tweets:

Reading this piece from 2002, lots of people, both GOPers and weasel Dems, were sure wrong about Pelosi.

The amazing thing about the detractors of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not just how wrong they have been -- and their predictions have been terrible -- but how enduring their poor predictions have been.

Markos is right to note that this trend started long ago, with projections in 2002 that Pelosi's ascendancy would be bad news for House Democrats. Of course today, the party holds 50 more seats in the House than it did when she was elected the party's leader.

In 2006, Republicans put enough stock in these criticisms to invest serious money running ads trying to tie Democratic candidates and incumbents to the supposedly unpopular Pelosi. At the time, I predicted this tactic would fail, and indeed they did, wasting resources on a tactic that failed to sway voters as Democrats picked up 31 seats en route to retaking the House for the first time in 12 years.

During the 2008 cycle, too, we saw Republicans direct their resources towards trying to tie Pelosi to Democratic candidates and incumbents -- a strategy that failed in even deeply red districts. In the end, the Democrats managed to pick up close to another two dozen seats through the 2008 cycle despite predictions that the party would not be able to strike gold twice in a row.

Yet despite the fact that Pelosi's detractors have been proven wrong many times over, and that their mistake has been costly, Republicans appear destined to undertake the same strategy again in 2010, making Pelosi the key to their playbook. We'll see how that one goes for them. I'd be surprised if the Republicans didn't manage to make back a decent chunk of their losses from the last two cycles next fall almost regardless of their tactics. But if they think that they are going to be able to retake the House in 2010 by focusing their campaign strategy on Pelosi rather than laying out any sort of positive vision for the country, it's hard to see how they will be any more successful then than they have in the past several years.

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Dems can honor legacy AND win elections on health care

Tonight, President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress, whose members are freshly returned from August recess.  What the President will say and how it will affect the national discussion on health care reform remains to be seen.  What is absolutely certain is that the discussion over the past month has been hijacked by delusional claims by people whose agenda consists of little more than scoring cheap political points.

The greatest and most offensive inequities in this nation happen when someone is denied medical care.  That this concept does not drive to the core of every elected official who holds the public trust is a threat to our Democracy.  

The bottom line is insurance companies don't care, Democrats have a real mandate, Republicans won't support anything, and it's time to flex some muscle.

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