The late “Gonzo” journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, used to describe a series of unfortunate events cascading down upon a particular individual as being "slammed with a million-pound “s..t hammer.”
I don’t know if Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, ever met the eccentric Thompson, or even if he ever read one of his books or features in Rolling Stone.
However, I’m certain that after the events of the past month, the powerful 19-term lawmaker can accurately describe just what that hammer feels like.
To summarize, the head of Congress’ tax writers has come under fire for failing to pay, well, taxes, on rental income from a vacation villa in the Dominican Islands; rental of four rent-stabilized apartments in his Harlem residence; his use of official stationery to solicit donations for a college center named in his honor; and most recently, using a House of Representatives parking garage for years as free storage space for his 1972 Mercedes-Benz.
He has also faced new questions about discrepancies in the value of a Florida condominium that he bought in 2004 and sold in 2006, and how he reported the value and timing of the sale on his congressional disclosure forms.
Rangel's attorney admitted that the lawmaker owes nearly $10,000 in federal, state and local taxes, including about $5,000 to the IRS, on the nearly $75,000 in rental income he’d earned on the beachfront property since buying it about 20 years ago — but not before the congressman bemoaned that a language barrier prohibited him from understanding the tax ramifications of said ownership in the D.R.
He has also admitted his past two decades' worth of tax returns were riddled with errors, and has subsequently hired a forensic accountant to unravel the mess.
As you can imagine, Rangel’s tax malaise has sparked a cacophony of calls for him to resign as chair of Ways & Means.
To exactly no one’s surprise, House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after promising to look into the matter, backed down like Barney Fife in a back alley brawl with the Hell’s Angels.
In an election year, where tax reform has occupied a sizeable portion of the McCain and Obama campaign platforms, it probably doesn’t reflect well that the head of the nation’s tax writers has personal tax problems and ethics questions that seem each week to increase exponentially.
If he truly has the best interest of his party at heart in the 2008 election and beyond, he will quietly exit stage right. Otherwise that hammer will most likely get heavier.
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