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The Ways and Means of Rangel, Now No. 2 on Key House Panel

Agile New York congressmen takes powerful post and will help negotiate a health-care reform bill

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WHENEVER the powerful House Ways and Means Committee got in a battle over tax issues, negotiations often started in Rep. Charles Rangel's office.

It is likely there will be even more such wranglings in Mr. Rangel's quarters as this key congressional committee debates health-care reform bills.

With Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois no longer chairman of the committee due to a 17-count indictment, Mr. Rangel (D) of New York has effectively become the second ranking Democrat on the committee. (The panel's official No. 2, Rep. J.J. Pickle (D) of Texas, is retiring.) And, since acting chairman Rep. Sam Gibbons (D) of Florida, is viewed as lacking in negotiating skills, Rangel's services could be in even more demand.

``Charlie becomes the heir apparent, so people will have to pay more attention to him,'' says former Rep. Bill Frenzel, who was the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee for many years. What they will find, says New York's Gov. Mario Cuomo in an interview, is ``a progressive pragmatist,'' someone ``who must keep an eye on the future but is sufficiently subtle and practical to make the difficult, sometimes mean decisions, to get there.'' Governor Cuomo says Rangel is ``politically what I would like to be at my best.''

Helping the home town

It is not surprising that Cuomo has good things to say about Rangel. The congressman has helped to take care of New York.

``He's been an extremely successful advocate for New York City,'' says Brad Johnson, who used to be a lobbyist for the city and now is a partner with the Washington law firm of Hawkins, Delafield & Wood.

Rangel, the fifth ranking black congressman, fought to maintain the deductibility of state and local taxes on United States taxes during debate over the 1986 Tax Reform Act. It is one of Cuomo's favorite political battle stories.

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