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Rangel joins others in alleged ethics violation

With the House Ethics Committee's "public admonishment" Friday for breaking rules against taking corporate pay for travel, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) joins a strange, small club of powerful Democrats who have served in Congress.

It has three members: Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois and now, Rangel.

Each served as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee during a Democratic stab at restructuring the nation's health care system. And each stumbled into a scandal.

In 1974, Mills was caught with an Argentine stripper named Fanne Foxe after she had jumped into the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. At the time, Democrats were trying to pass a major health overhaul.

Two decades later, Rostenkowski was caught misusing public funds, embezzling, and putting ghost employees on his office payroll, among other things, as Democrats weighed President Bill Clinton's health reform.

It all turned out badly in both cases.

Mills, the architect of Medicare, didn't run for re-election. The 1974 health overhaul fizzled.

Rostenkowski ran, but lost. He pleaded guilty to misuse of public funds and mail fraud, and was sentenced to 17 months and a $100,000 fine. Clinton's health care legislation crashed.

Rangel's final story is yet to be written. The House Ethics Committee is probing other charges against him. But Rangel is planning to run for re-election - and President Barack Obama's health bill is not dead yet.

- Tom Brune

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