Stark, Staring

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed her true liberal colors when she briefly gave the nod to one of Congress’s most vocal liberals to replace scandal-ridden Charlie Rangel as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. But sober second thoughts have now prevailed and Mr. Stark’s reign ended before it began.

The unannounced reason was undoubtedly a revolt by saner members at this morning’s closed caucus meeting. Reports say that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen leaned on Mr. Stark to step aside in the interests of the party, and the caucus unanimously approved Michigan Democrat Sander Levin instead.


Republicans will be disappointed. They were looking forward to making a fundraising poster boy of Mr. Stark, a dyspeptic 78-year-old from California’s Bay Area. Said one K Street observer yesterday when the appointment seemed a done deal: “He will be a dream for Republicans fundraising to take over control of Congress. He is so volatile and unpredictable, the business community will contribute if there’s any chance to stop him from keeping the gavel.”

Over the years, Mr. Stark has called various GOP colleagues “fruitcake” and “whore for the insurance industry,” as well as accusing former Rep. J.C. Watts of fathering all his children “out of wedlock.” In 2007, he said President George W. Bush was amused by seeing the heads of U.S. soldiers getting blown off. He later apologized for those remarks on the House floor. He also narrowly escaped an ethics inquiry over claiming a homestead tax deduction for his Maryland residence even though he is registered to vote in California. A highly critical investigator’s report noted that Mr. Stark was “extremely belligerent and frequently insulted [Office of Congressional Ethics] staff members interviewing him.”

Mr. Stark was originally selected for the Ways and Means post not just because Ms. Pelosi wanted him, but because the ancient seniority system is considered sacrosanct by House Democrats. “We do believe in seniority around here,” Rep. John Lewis of Georgia told reporters yesterday. Apparently not so much, though, that they were prepared to tie their political fates to Mr. Stark in a job guaranteed to panic the nation’s taxpayers, business owners and employers.

‘John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’