New chairman is one of Congress' most controversial members

The new Ways and Means Committee chairman has a long history of controversial statements and is regarded as one of the lower chamber's most partisan Democrats.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) decision to tap Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) to take the gavel of the Ways and Means Committee surprised some on Capitol Hill. Many expected Pelosi to appoint mild-mannered Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who ranks behind Stark in seniority on the Ways and Means panel, to replace Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Stark was involved in a recent confrontation with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), a quasi-independent body Democrats created in 2008 to help burnish the ethics committee’s reputation.
 
The OCE initiated in investigation into Stark and several other members after press reports began scrutinizing the lawmakers’ claim of homestead tax deductions for residences they own in the D.C. area.
 
Stark faced scrutiny for claiming a $3,770 tax break in Maryland because he was registered to vote in Fremont, Calif., and rented a house there.
 
Throughout his interview with investigators, the OCE report said Stark was “extremely belligerent and frequently insulted OCE staff members interviewing him.”
 
They also noted that Stark had tried to surreptitiously videotape the interview.
 
“Approximately 15 minutes into the interview, it also became apparent to OCE interviewers that Rep. Stark was videotaping the exchange,” the report said.
 
The ethics committee cleared Stark of any wrongdoing in late January, but the OCE was more critical in its recommendation that the ethics panel investigate further. The OCE said Stark called the Maryland tax department and changed his answer to one of the questions on the application for the deduction two days after the first press report appeared about a member of Congress improperly receiving the homestead tax credit.

Below are some of Stark's statements throughout his career. Stark, 78, is serving his 19th term.

* Only atheist in Congress

* Proponent of reinstating the military draft

*Has long pushed for healthcare reform and is an ardent critic of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. In 2009, Stark voted for House healthcare bill, but noted it wasn't the bill he would have written.

* Named one of the House's most partisan members in a 2009 survey conducted by The Hill.

* Called then Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) a "whore for the insurance industry."

* Said in 2001 that all of then House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts's (Okla.) children "were born out of wedlock."

* Called bombing of Iraq "an act of extreme terrorism" in 2003.

*Got into a heated argument in 2003 with then Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.). Stark told McInnis, "You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp. Come over here and make me, I dare you. You little fruitcake."

* Said in 2007 that President George W. Bush was amused by U.S. soldiers getting their heads blow off in Iraq. Stark subsequently apologized on the House floor.

* Said after the 2008 election that he would be interested in the Ways and Means gavel if there were an opening. Asked if he thought he would be challenged for the top spot, Stark responded, "I don't know -- depends on the circumstances."

Source: The Almanac of American Politics, research by The Hill

Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.