Last week, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) made an unusual political announcement: If the Republicans retain the house after the elections this November, he will resign his seat. (I learned about this from the BNA Daily Tax Report for August 3.)
Rangel is the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and he would be the presumptive chairman of that important taxwriting committee if the Democrats regain majority status in the House. Rangel himself in presumably in a safe seat, so his personal future is not at stake in the upcoming elections. However, he views these elections as a signal about whether America accepts his party or not. Rangel is quoted as saying: “I won’t be able to get over the pain of my party being rejected.” Moreover, he doesn’t want to continue “saying no to Republican bills.”
Given how few seats are actually competitive in Congressional elections, I find it interesting that a seasoned politician would stake his personal political future on the outcome of an election that doesn’t involve his own seat. I can understand how Hollywood celebrities can make these dramatic statements – after all, they are actors. (By the way, I think we are still waiting for a couple of those actors to leave the country after the last elections.)
America is highly fragmented, and it is somewhat hazardous to evaluate whether Americans generally accept or reject one party or another based on bi-annual elections. In many areas, people do vote for the person, and this reason alone gives significant power to incumbents who have demonstrated successful constituent service records. However, the larger issue of which party gets to control the legislative processes is highly important. Given the close political balance on many fundamental tax and economic issues, it may well matter who controls the process of getting these issues through the political machinery.
As we have seen, the Republican controlled Congress has had some limited successes in cutting taxes, but they have not delivered on their promises of smaller government. Some voters may want to punish them for their lack of accomplishment in the latter category (and perhaps even both categories). But voters concerned about tax issues should consider whether a change in leadership would likely make a difference here. So, if Chairman Rangel (and Speaker Pelosi) sounds like music to your ears, you know which way to vote this fall. If, on the other hand, that sounds like a squeaking chalkboard, you might consider that in the calculus of “voting for the person.”