CONGRESSAccording to nearly every news account today, Rep. Pete Stark is described as “pugnacious”, “behaving erratically”, having a “volcanic temper” and called  colleagues “little wimps” and “fruitcakes.” Along with those colorful monikers, the East Bay congressman is also the new chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Stark, 78, replaces Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) who stepped down from the chairmanship after being admonished for ethics violations. Stark told committee Democrats this morning he would take the position on an interim basis until the November elections, the Washington Post reported.

Such an arrangement would allow House Democrats to follow the customary rules of ascension afforded Stark as the second-ranking Democrat on the committee and assuage many party leaders who are uncomfortable with the bombastic, partisan style of the congressional veteran.

According to Politico, the elevation of Stark to the chairman’s seat “makes sense” for Democrats and proponents of health care reform. Stark also chairs the House Ways and Means Sub-Committee on Health and with health care reform at the forefront of national discourse, the move could be advantageous for those hoping to ride a  slow second wind of reviving the public option, which he strongly favors.

With Stark as chair of the prestigious tax-writing body, California legislators wield even greater power on Capitol Hill, notes Fox News. Four members from the Golden state lead four House committees, including three closely linked to health care reform.

Not only is [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi from California, but four other Californians already chair major House committees. Rep. Howard Berman leads the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Henry Waxman heads the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. George Miller chairs the Education and Labor Committee. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren sits atop the ethics committee. With the installation of Stark on a temporary basis, Pelosi now has three Californians chairing the three committees with jurisdiction over health care reform: Waxman, Miller and Stark.

The question now becomes, will Stark’s health become an issue as his power in the capitol increases? The Post says he missed over 250 roll calls because of an undisclosed illness. The Citizen has described the declining health of the congressman at numerous town hall meetings in his district. At one such gathering in San Leandro last summer, he told constituents he was recovering from a past bout with pneumonia. Later in the summer, at a meeting of the Alameda Democratic Club, he exhibited a pronounced limp and had difficulty hearing questioners. A host at the meeting told audience
members to speak louder and indicated the ailment was due to a current undisclosed illness.

TheCiTiZEN FILE ON…Pete Stark and Ways and Means Chair 

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