Charles Rangel steps aside as House Ways and Means chairman

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Bowing to pressure from Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Charles Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, agreed to step down “temporarily,” after a House ethics committee admonished him for accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., will succeed Rangel as chairman. Levin’s younger brother, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Rangel continues to face ethics committee scrutiny for more serious charges. The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (the ethics committee) is reviewing his failure to pay federal taxes on rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, his use of four rent-stabilized apartments provided by a Manhattan real-estate developer, and fund raising activities for his own campaign and for other Democrats, among other alleged malfeasance, according to reports.

Rangel’s Ways and Means staff will remain and House leaders will exercise a good deal of control over the committee, Crain’s New York Business reported. The 2001-2003 tax cuts, set to expire at the end of 2010, leave the committee with a full agenda, which already includes health care-related taxes.

Chairman Levin told The Wall Street Journal that he favors a restoration of the estate tax, but with a more generous exemption. Without congressional action, the estate tax will go up to 55 percent for estates over $1 million when the tax cuts expire. Levin also supports a cut in the capital gains tax for small businesses.

So far, the ethics committee does not seem to have lived up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promise in 2007 that the new Congress would “drain the swamp.” After admonishing Rangel, the ethics committee issued a report clearing seven other House members, all on the defense appropriations subcommittee, of allegations that they had improperly given tens of millions of dollars in earmarks to political contributors. The committee also cleared five members who took the same trips as Mr. Rangel, according to reports.

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