Republicans were fired from their control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the election of 2006 for a number of reasons. Spending too much generally was one of them. Bloating appropriations bills with "earmarks" to reward friends and supporters was another. Iraq was certainly a major contributing factor.
But, what weighed House Republicans down like an anchor around their collective necks was: Scandal. Duke Cunningham's written menu of acceptable bribe amounts. Jack Abramoff buying Members and staff like heads of romaine lettuce at Whole Foods. And the father of all the scandals, Mark Foley.
I won't regurgitate the whole sordid Foley story here but it involved the Florida Republican having inappropriate text-message conversations with a 16-year-old male page; the House Republican Leadership knowing about it; and nothing being done.
The implication was that Speaker's office thought it was more important to protect the GOP brand than to protect a teenaged page from the predations of a Member of the House.
Foley became the shorthand for everything voters disliked - hated - about Republicans in the House. Cunningham trading votes for furniture seemed odd. Other Members trading votes for golfing trips just seemed stupid. Preying on a child - that, they understood. Protecting the predator - that, was punishable by death at the ballot box.
It is important to remember what that felt like, four long years ago, because House Democrats find themselves in much the same position.
The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful people on the planet. He writes the tax laws. A semicolon in the tax code can save (or cost) a multinational corporation tens of millions of dollars every year. For 100 years the tax code has been used to nudge, or force, Americans into a particular behavior. Want people to smoke less? Tax cigarettes more. Want people to buy houses? Make interest on mortgages deductible. And so on.
Charles Rangel had to give up the chairmanship of Ways and Means but not before Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended him, then waffled, then had to watch as the Committee Members tossed out the guy next in line and voted for Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich)to head the Committee.
Rangel is not out of the woods. The Ethics Committee is still looking a charges of tax evasion, influence peddling, and misuse of rent-controlled apartments in New York City.
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