The Chairman Speaks Exclusive with Cong. Rangel, Part 1

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

In the world of politics, having one's feet to the fire is nowhere to be, even if you're nearly as fireproof as Congressman Charles Rangel. Rangel, Harlem's elder statesman, who calls his autobiography "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since," may want to reconsider that title given the swirl of charges and accusations that have engulfed him recently. Despite the controversy and the financial calamity, Rangel, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, found time to speak to the Amsterdam News before hurrying to Washington to prepare for a second vote on the bailout plan. He was optimistic that the bill would pass in the second round, and he was prescient as the House voted 263 to 171, attracting 26 more Republicans and 32 more Democrats than last Monday night to the revised $700 billion rescue package. Unlike a majority of his colleagues at the Congressional Black Caucus, Rangel voted for the bailout in the first round and in this exclusive interview, he spells out why he did so, his concerns about the economic future, as well as speaks forthright about the barrage of assertions about his own imperiled financial status. Part 2 of the Interview will run next week.

Amsterdam News: Congressman Rangel, give us your take on the current economic crisis and what's to be done.

Rangel: A lot of people don't truly understand that when these wrongdoers poison the well, it was motivated by greed and the impact will not be just on the banks. The poison they put in the water, we all have to drink. And the fact that we are angry with the president, with the Congress and angry with these investment bankers doesn't mean we are not going to suffer as a result of their wrongdoing. These individuals ripped off millions of dollars and by today's standards, they stole it, but they're gone. And they have left us with this doubt, with though you're bringing $700 billion [in] goods and services. So, if you're successful and nothing does happen, you don't get credit for anything. If on the other hand, you say I don't believe there are any bullets in that Russian roulette gun, then you are risking the economic future of the poor and the middle class, who will suffer irrevocably. The rich will only be inconvenienced by a fall in the market or a fall in credit. They will always be able to purchase the goods and services they need. They don't need any credit.

AN: An inconvenience for the rich is a catastrophe for the poor and middle class...

Rangel: But if you really start to think--and no one wants to--what does our everyday life look like in terms of buying things on credit or the tuition we pay? What happens to our pensions and thrift accounts [a retirement savings plan for civilians who are employed by the United States and members of the uniformed services], which have already dropped a $1 trillion on the market? Who does that really impact the most, the guy who has seen his financial portfolio drop from $30 billion to $20 billion, or the person who has no other resources at all? And this is happening at the worst time because while people are reluctant to talk about the recession we live in--as though that word means something--a recession means, basically, do you have a need for goods and services and you don't have the resources to buy it? Now when the government said it was prepared, a few months back, to put $150 billion just in checks out there,it wasn't a good thing, they just felt that with the small business person that as goods and services are inventoried and they are not selling then they have to lay off people and throw them right in the same category where we have a 6 percent unemployment. These are people, who through no fault of their own, lost their jobs. But they did not lose the need to pay rent, mortgage, tuition, health care and gasoline. So if they just throw money at this group and say spend it fast, it really didn't work because once we got the money out there it was sucked up by the increase in gasoline prices. If you go to the local stores, these folks are not vocal, they are not activists, they don't scream in the streets. But they make their payroll and their inventory by borrowing money. They plan on borrowing money. The Empowerment Zone is based on borrowing money. They don't give away money; they loan money.