The tax writer

While the Ensign affair (pun intended) makes national news, it barely registers on a scale of ethical transgressions when compared with the problems of Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat.

But far from resigning his post, Rep. Rangel continues to hold one of the most powerful positions in Congress.

Rep. Rangel chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel that writes the nation's tax laws. Yet Rep. Rangel is caught up in a scandal involving his failure to pay taxes on a Caribbean rental property.

In addition, according to The New York Times, Rep. Rangel "paid no interest for more than a decade on a mortgage extended to him" to buy the beach house rental property in the Dominican Republic. The congressman never reported this gift, as required by law.

The House Ethics Committee is also investigating whether Rep. Rangel worked to preserve a lucrative tax break for an oil drilling company after its chief executive agreed to donate $1 million to the Charles Rangel Center, a school of public service at the City College of New York.

Then we have the fact that Rep. Rangel has been somewhat lax in filling out accurate financial disclosure forms. In August, with the scandal swirling around him, he suddenly discovered a six-figure checking account that he had failed to report. He also amended his disclosure forms to reflect a handful of other six-figure investment accounts that had apparently escaped his attention.

On Wednesday, House Democrats -- stalwart critics leading up to last year's elections of a GOP "culture of corruption" -- beat back a Republican attempt to remove Rep. Rangel from his chairmanship. But on Thursday, the Ethics Committee voted to expand its investigation to include Rep. Rangel's incomplete financial disclosure forms.

It will be harder and harder for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her minions in the House leadership to shield their eyes from this ethical train wreck as the 2010 elections approach. The danger, of course, is that voters might notice the incongruity inherent in Democrats claiming to be the party eager to clean up Washington while tolerating a tax-writing chairman who doesn't pay his taxes.