Tax-Cut Rollback Not On Table, Rangel Says

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 2006

To hear Republicans talk, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the gravel-voiced New York Democrat who stands to take over the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is "giddy" about the chance to undo popular tax cuts enacted during President Bush's first term in office.

But Rangel said yesterday that he had no intention of rolling back the cuts, most of which are scheduled to expire in 2010, if Democrats claim the House on Nov. 7.

"I think it would be ridiculous for us in 2007 to be talking about 2010 tax cuts," Rangel said in an interview. "I don't want to go retroactive in terms of any of the tax cuts. I think retroactive tax increases are bad tax policy."

As the prognosis for Republicans to maintain control has grown increasingly gloomy, Rangel has become a favorite rhetorical punching bag for President Bush and Republican leaders. At fundraisers, in news releases and on the campaign trail, Republicans have been warning voters that a Democratic House would raise taxes and wreak havoc on the nation's economic recovery. They raise the specter of Rangel's bejeweled hands on the controls of federal tax policy like some terrifying Halloween goblin.

Last week, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) attacked Rangel by name two days in a row in news releases with such headlines as "Dem Tax Hikes Would Threaten Strong Economy." "The American people don't trust Charlie Rangel and his tax-happy Democrat friends because they know Democrats will work overtime to raise their taxes," Boehner said.

At a fundraiser this week in Florida, Bush reminded the crowd that Rangel, "the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee . . . would be the one who would take the lead in taxes" if the Democrats take over. Noting that Rangel has said he "couldn't think of one of our tax cuts he would extend," Bush joked, to laughter and applause: "See? They're genetically disposed to raise your taxes."

Rangel, a firebrand liberal and partisan brawler who has represented New York City in Congress since 1971, laughs at such statements. "It's really working my base, too, you know. So it works out for everybody," he said.

Of his comment to Bloomberg News in September that he "cannot think of one" of Bush's tax cuts that merit renewal, Rangel said he was discussing the ground rules for broad-based tax reform to fix what most experts agree is an inefficient and unnecessarily complicated tax system.

"I was asked, 'Are there any tax cuts you would say you want to extend?' And I said no. And I mean it," Rangel said. "That's what tax simplification is all about -- determining what we're going to keep and what we're not going to keep. I have to say everything is on the table."

Does that mean the cuts that have so far saved taxpayers an estimated $1.1 trillion will not survive their expiration date? Rangel demurs.

"I'm 76 years old. I don't buy green bananas," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen in 2010? It just doesn't make sense, with all the problems we are facing, to be discussing the extension of tax cuts that don't expire till 2010."

If Rangel does become the first Democrat to chair Ways and Means since 1994, he said his first priority will be to restore bipartisan cooperation to a committee that he said has been ruled by Republican fiat. Some "low-hanging fruit" to prove his good intentions: Moving stalled trade agreements and making permanent the research and development tax credit, which firms can claim for research done in the United States. Corporate groups are working to save the credit, which is in danger of expiring unless Congress acts quickly to extend the credit.

Rangel said he also plans to hold a bipartisan retreat to start cracking all the tough fiscal nuts: the spiraling cost of Medicare, the expanding reach of the alternative minimum tax and Social Security reform. But talks will start on his terms, he said. For example, if Bush does not abandon his plan to divert Social Security tax dollars to private accounts, Rangel said, "that means he's not going to deal with it."

"It's much easier to fight [the Republicans] than to work with them. But the American people want us to work together. And I am not convinced [voters] are just teed off with Republicans," he said, laughing. "I'm not being benevolent. I'm not being fair. I'm being as political as I've ever been. It's in the best interest of my party to get something done."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company