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Ways & Means

Rep. Charles Rangel at His Office
"One of my biggest jobs is to convince Democrats that it's not in our best interests to get even if we want to get something done," says the congressman. (Kevin Clark - The Washington Post)

The funerals he attended in Harlem for troops killed in Iraq pained him. He pondered leaving the House if the Democrats didn't win.

But they did win. And victory has spoils. When the sun rose the day after Election Day, Charlie Rangel -- the boogeyman -- was the presumptive chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"In the highest chambers of the U.S. government," Rangel beams, "they cannot exclude me. Got damn!"

"He'll be dealing with issues that affect every single American," says Cummings. "Social Security, Medicare, trade with foreign countries. And taxes."

So Charles Bernard Rangel is, among other things, the tax man.

And now, the tax man cometh.

Going Up

This is a town where power is a magical elixir, the potion that erases age. The old are not old and the young are not young. They are -- given the right turn of events, the good fortune to be named chairman of this or that committee -- just powerful.

And yet so numerous are the faces of black legislators on Capitol Hill that it might not be immediately obvious: When Rangel assumes chairmanship of Ways and Means in January, he will be the most powerful black legislator ever.

"We had Bill Gray, first black chair of the House Budget Committee," says Cummings. "But Ways and Means is far above that. Charlie's being elevated adds another dimension to the happiness of the Congressional Black Caucus -- and the Democratic Party. But it's not a black thing with Charlie. It's a red, white and blue thing."

Since election night, the congratulatory messages have been plentiful.

"People say to me: 'You've waited long enough!' As if this job was just about waiting on the chair. It wasn't."

He goes on, explaining why he stayed: "It was the frustration built up over this immoral war, the tax deals geared toward the rich, Hurricane Katrina. I had that nightmare that somebody -- God -- would ask me: 'Well, Rangel, what did you do about it?' And at 76 all I would be able to say was 'I left'?"

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