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Rangel Plays Bit Part in Health Care Reform

As the then-ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) once had to wander the halls of the Capitol searching for a secret conference committee convened by Republicans.

Now Rangel is the powerful panel’s chairman, but he again appears to be playing second fiddle.

Only this time it’s to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who have been at the center of critical negotiations with Blue Dog Democrats and the White House to get the massive health care bill passed.

On Monday, Pelosi said she would like to see the tax package that Rangel’s committee approved rewritten to target millionaires just days after the panel voted to adopt it. And on Tuesday at a White House meeting with a group of Blue Dogs, Waxman agreed to the idea of a powerful independent commission to oversee cuts to Medicare — an idea that falls partly in Rangel’s jurisdiction — and consulted with Rangel after the fact.

It’s not the first time that Rangel, who has been entangled in a yearlong ethics inquiry that he called into his personal finances, has appeared to be outmaneuvered by the Speaker and Waxman.

Pelosi earlier this year prevailed on Rangel to speed through consideration of the controversial cap-and-trade energy bill largely written by Waxman’s committee.

“The Ways and Means Committee has been humiliated by leadership,” one veteran Democratic Member said. “They bypassed them on the energy bill, they disrespected the committee with the one day of markup [on the health care bill] ... and now they are recutting all the deals Charlie made,” the Member said. “It’s not fair to Charlie and it’s not fair to members of the committee. This is the greatest committee in the House of Representatives, and leadership is treating it like the House Administration Committee.”

But Rangel defended his relationship with the Speaker and his central role in crafting the health care package.

Rangel asserted Wednesday that he isn’t frustrated that Pelosi first floated her new surtax plan in the press rather than with him, or that the other negotiations are taking place without him.

“You can write what you want, but I’ve never had a better relationship with the Speaker,” Rangel said Wednesday, adding that it would be “a stretch to say I’m having problems with the Speaker. I met with her today and we read off the same page. ... She was anxious to get my views.”

But the two still haven’t discussed Pelosi’s proposal to limit the health care surcharge to individuals making more than $500,000 a year and families making more than $1 million. “It didn’t come up,” Rangel said.

A day earlier, Rangel had scoffed at Pelosi’s comments, saying that while she had brought up the idea a few times informally to Members, she hadn’t directed him to implement it.

“She has mentioned this more than once with me present in a group, but not as any indication that she wants our committee to review it,” Rangel said. “She’s never discussed it with me.”

Rangel said that people were clearly discussing the issue with reporters rather than with him and that he supported his committee’s markup.

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