This week, the House Ethics Committee admonished Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) for taking trips with some staffers to the Caribbean that were paid for by corporations with important business before Congress. Since Congressman Rangel is Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which crafts legislation involving taxes and many of the largest social welfare programs, he is one of the most powerful members of Congress and is clearly in a position to do critical favors for well-connected corporations.
The House Ethics Committee has a history of going soft on members of Congress who break ethics rules or commit outright illegal acts (such as with this announcement of yesterday), and the admonishment carries no further penalties for Congressman Rangel. Nor did the committee bother to comment on the whole host of other ethics violations that Congressman Rangel has committed, including failing to report income from the rental of overseas properties he owns and getting sweetened deals on rent-stabilized apartments in New York City from a real estate developer.
Some members of Congress, including members of his own party, have called on Rangel to resign his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee in light of these scandals. This is not sufficient. Congressman Rangel should resign from Congress altogether.
The American people elect their representatives in Congress to serve the interests of their constituents and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, the modern culture in Washington has long since reduced this ideal to a quaint idea from a utopian past. Every time news ethics rules are created, the politically and financially powerful quickly and easily finds ways to circumvent them. Besides, most ethics rules are written with loopholes deliberately inserted into them anyway.
The only true insurance against bribery and corruption in Congress is the American voter. All citizens should remorselessly monitor their own representatives in Congress and the state legislatures, and hold their feet to the fire when any hint of ethical lapses rears its head. Congressman Rangel, for his part, should have been voted out of office by his own constituents long ago.