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The "Ways and Means" of Charlie and Other "Ranglers"

Rep. Charles Rangel
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., talks with the media as he walks out of his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP

As Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and his colleagues mull over his political fate, it's interesting to note that he's the third one-time leader of the powerful Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives to fall amid scandal.

First, you should know what the Ways and Means Committee does, and why the chairmanship is a powerful, coveted position.

In short, it's the "tax" committee. Members help write the U.S. tax code: laws impacting every American citizen and business. Major corporations, industries and other special interests wish to curry favor to make sure tax laws are favorable to them.

Watchdogs say these special interests use methods such as campaign donations and other incentives to make sure their voices are heard. In other words, members of Congress who are lucky enough to get a spot on the Ways and Means Committee are virtually assured they'll be offered a wealth of campaign donations and courted with other perks.

As for the chairman? Well, you get the idea...These members become so powerful, so entrenched in the world of Washington influence, that political observers say they sometimes simply lose touch. Their sense of entitlement grows. They become their own worst enemies.

Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) served 13 years as the chairman of Ways and Means until 1994. That's when he was indicted for corruption. He later served time in prison.

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Before that, Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) headed up Ways and Means. He led the committee from 1958 until 1974, and was its powerful leader when Medicare was enacted in 1965. But scandal brought him down, too.

In the most storied incident, police found him in the Washington, D.C., Tidal Basin with a stripper named Fanne Foxe. Before his colleagues could oust him, he stepped down as committee chairman in 1974.

Since Rep. Rangel stepped down as chairman of Ways and Means earlier this year, a congressman named Sander Levin (D-Mich.) has been leading the committee. His brother, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairs the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

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In this Feb. 19, 2008, file photo, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, listens to questions from members of the Capitol press corps., following his address of the state legislature, in Juneau, Alaska. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, died in a small plane crash in Alaska, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. He was 86. <br><br> <a href="" class="linkIcon read"><b> Spokesman: Ex-Sen. Ted Stevens Dead in Crash</b></a> Chris Miller
Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News Investigative Correspondent based in Washington.
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