The Chairman Speaks

When the Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate in November’s mid-term elections, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) became chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, which oversees legislation and policies related to taxes, trade, health, and Social Security.In conservative quarters, his appointment was viewed with fear and angst. Now, political and business leaders routinely seek the counsel and blessing of this 36-year political veteran. With a broad smile, Rangel, 76, publicly downplays his newfound power, asserting that “winning the majority is more important than just winning the chair.” But his decisions affect the pocketbooks of legions of corporate leviathans, thousands of small businesses, and millions of citizens like you.
Operating out of his spacious office, from which he notoriously evicted Vice President Cheney, the raspy-voiced congressional leader was in the throes of yet another busy week. In the space of just a few days, Rangel presided over hearings on the economy, poverty, and globalization; reviewed renewal of the trade promotion authority, which gives President Bush the ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries; discussed legislation proposed by the Senate that would boost the minimum wage to $7.25; and debated the Bush administration’s budget, which seeks to permanently extend current tax cuts.

Among his most pressing initiatives is the repeal or limitation of the alternative minimum tax. Originally designed to guarantee that the wealthiest 3% didn’t avoid income taxes by using a myriad of write-offs, the tax is expected to hit 30 million Americans–many in the middle class–by 2010, according to the Tax Foundation. As Rangel juggled these and other legislative priorities, BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with him about how his committee will impact your finances.

BE: How has Ways & Means changed under your leadership?
RANGEL: Before the mid-term elections, Democrats had been excluded from participating in anything. If the Republicans thought an issue was going to be bipartisan, they would put in a poison pill to make certain that they got every Republican, at no matter what cost, so they did not need one Democrat. In order to cut us out completely, they have had to hold their members hostage. It was so ridiculous. Already with my chairmanship, the Republicans, as badly as they wanted to be in the majority, are excited about the opportunity of legislating. And, as of now, I couldn’t have a better working relationship with the senior Republican.

BE: Have you seen any benefits related to the Bush tax cuts?
RANGEL: Only about a million people have been beneficiaries of the president’s tax cuts. Mostly, Congress will tell you that we have not been able to increase revenues to compensate for those cuts. The increase in revenues that we normally get as a result of tax breaks, we get because of increases in the economy. But the recipients of this tax cut have not done anything to stimulate the economic recovery.

BE: So the capital gains cuts did not stoke more investment and thereby have a positive effect on the economy?
RANGEL: There is no direct proof that this particular