Stark Says His Health Is Improving

Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:27am

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) — edged out as acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee this month after one day on the job — is alerting his colleagues that his health is on the mend following an extended bout with pneumonia.

“The good news is, that after months in the hospital last year, there is no more pneumonia,” the 78-year-old wrote in a note to fellow lawmakers on Saturday. “Unfortunately, my lung capacity was diminished and for a while I need to use supplemental oxygen to operate at 100%. So don’t panic if you see me with a little plastic tube at my nose. It’s a bit inconvenient, but it works.”

Stark’s health was at least part of the calculus in Democrats’ decision-making about how to replace Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) when he surrendered the gavel of the tax-writing committee amid an ethics investigation.

On the morning of March 3, shortly after Rangel announced his decision to temporarily step aside, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said he expected the promotion to go to Stark, who was next in line, but cautioned, “It will all depend on his health.” The California Democrat’s health problems sidelined him from 22 percent of House votes last year — the fifth-worst participation record in the chamber.

That, along with Stark’s history of off-color remarks and ethics problems, contributed to a sense among colleagues that he was not steady enough to helm one of the institution’s most powerful committees.

And Ways and Means Committee Democrats, meeting later that day, mounted stiff resistance to his elevation. By Thursday, Stark was out — the official explanation was that Stark preferred to keep the reins of the panel’s Subcommittee on Health — as third-ranking Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) assumed the chairmanship.