As Republicans continue pressuring House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., to give up his chair due to alleged ethical improprites (and/or pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, to oust Rangel before the Ethics Committee completes its probe), speculation swirls around who would take Rangel’s place.
And don’tcha know, the next-most-senior Democrat on that committee is the East Bay’s own Pete Stark, D-Fremont, who already chairs the influential Health Subcommittee which will play a pivotal role in whatever health-care reform the Obama Administration proposes.
But some unnamed sources on Capitol Hill say Stark, an outspoken liberal, isn’t a palatable option as committee chairman. Per CongressDaily’s article last week (subscription required):
Next in seniority to Rangel is Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., who is given virtually no chance. “The conventional wisdom is he would have a tough time getting elected chairman,” said a Democrat close to leadership. From suggesting Republicans were sending troops to Iraq to die “for the president’s amusement” to referring to a former GOP lawmaker as a “little fruitcake,” Stark is prone to gaffes, sources said. “The guy behind [Rangel] is just not tenable. Republicans would have a field day,” an industry lobbyist said, while noting the business community would “go nuclear. It would just be open warfare.” A more viable pick might be Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., who is next in seniority, although sources cautioned the cerebral Levin may be too deliberate for the high-profile job. Levin also appears to relish his duties at the helm of the trade panel. He is also seen as very much in tune with the labor movement, although industry sources said Levin was someone they could work with, as opposed to Stark. Also, the Democratic Caucus still largely respects the seniority system, the Democratic strategist said. “If you make the decision that Stark is too out there, then I don’t see how you go over Sandy,” he said. “He’s been a loyal member, and nobody would doubt he’s got the intellectual and legislative expertise for the job.”
Some progressives are not happy at all with the idea of Stark being summarily skipped. Here’s what DownWithTyranny’s Howie Klein had to say, even using one of the East Bay’s relatively recently departed as an example:
Do you recall any of the Inside the Beltway types viewing a Republican appointee to any job thru the lenses of how that person might be accepted by working families or by organized labor? Or did I miss the issue where CongressDaily suggested that Elaine Chao might be the world’s absolute worst Labor Secretary because she loathes working people and doesn’t recognize their aspirations as legitimate or worthy of her attention?
Did anyone ever question whether one of Congress’ biggest corporate shills on environmental issues, Dirty Dick Pombo, would be unqualified to be Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee because he was unanimously loathed by every single environmental group in the country? And what about that issue of CongressDaily– or any other daily– that pointed out that maybe Joe Barton (R-TX) shouldn’t be chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce because the $1,315,660 in legalized reported bribes he’s taken from Big Oil over the years is far more than any other member of the House, more even than notorious Big Oil puppets like Don Young (R-AK- $964,763), Steve Pearce (R-NM- $804,815), Tom Delay (R-TX- $688,840), and Pete Sessions (R-TX- $582,264), and that all the green energy groups feel that Barton is an integral part of the energy problem in our country and decidedly not part of the solution? No, I must have missed it too.
And, said David Dayen at Calitics (who gets a hat tip for this whole post):
Pete Stark is open and honest about his views. He has paid his dues and he’s next in line for the job. His “radical” policy ideas include making health care accessible and affordable for every American and opposing a giveaway to the financial services industry.
Ah… but does Stark even want the job?
“We have people falling all over each other today to move up the ladder,” Stark told me today, whether it’s for an Obama Administration appointment or climbing within the Democratic Caucus’ ranks. “I’ve got people beating on me every day, ‘Will you vote for me for caucus vice chair?’ There is something in my colleagues that they can’t resist running. But there is absolutely, as near as I can tell, no interest expressed by anyone to replace Charlie.”
“I automatically temporarily become acting chair if he steps aside,” he said, and while the House Democratic Caucus could vote to override that within 10 days of it happening, he doubts anybody would want the job on such an interim basis. “So if he steps aside, unless Nancy (Pelosi) doesn’t want me there, I would be acting chair and then God knows what would happen then.”
Hopefully Rangel would be cleared of the allegations against him, or punished with some penalty short of giving up the chair for good, and could return to the job, Stark said.
The only way he’d want the chair permanently is if Rangel freely chooses to retire from it – “I’m good at it; I may mouth off about George W. Bush or whatever, but I’ve put together some of the most complex bipartisan legislation, much of it for Ronald Reagan for chrissakes” – but now’s not the time for that, he said: “I’d lay my credentials on the table and see if I could get the job, but with all we have to do now, I don’t even want that to come up, it would be so distracting.”
Stark said the first 100 days of the Obama Administration will be some of the busiest, and potentially most productive, that he’s seen in his 35 years in Congress — which is exactly why he believes Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is keeping up a steady drumbeat for a leadership shakeup at Ways and Means, through which a lot of important legislation is about to flow. “If we fail, it helps them, so anything they can do to disrupt, I think they will.”
“Under no circumstances do I think Charlie at this point should either step down or resign, for a host of reasons,” Stark told me. “I think all of the issues that he’s being charged with are sloppy bookkeeping at worst. I’ve known this guy a long time, I guess I’ve been on the Ways and Means Committee 34 years and I’ve sat next to Charlie all those years… If he’s guilty of anything, it’s probably over-exuberance in trying to help out disadvantaged people in his neighborhood.”
Nothing’s likely to happen before January, he said, and “by then I suspect that the Ethics Committee will have some kind of a report and they may punish him in some way, but I can’t believe it would be in the nature of asking him to relinquish his chairmanship.”