Speculation over the succession after Charlie Rangel finally took a “leave of absence” from his Ways and Means chair has gripped the political media.  The next ranking Democrat, Pete Stark of California, is widely seen as a nut.  Some wondered whether Democrats may elevate John Lewis of Georgia over others with more seniority in order to (a) avoid Stark and (b) mollify the Congressional Black Caucus.  In the end, they couldn’t avoid Stark.

Lobbyists, though, aren’t impressed at all with what they see as a charade — because the same person will be in charge no matter what:

It doesn’t matter who the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is to K Street, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been the de facto power behind the panel for some time, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers.

Pelosi has had a major say on the committee’s agenda since Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came under fire last year for several ethics controversies, these sources said.

Most lobbyists don’t expect that to change now that Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) will serve as the acting chairman of Ways and Means.

How did Nancy Pelosi manage to get her grip on the power of Ways and Means?  Her right-hand man makes sure she keeps it:

Another consistency is Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who sits on the committee and is also assistant to the Speaker. Some lobbyists say they’ve been directed to go through Van Hollen to get the Speaker’s input on issues going through the committee, something likely to continue.

“Pelosi wanted more of a say in what Ways and Means does, and the congressman helps that along,” one lobbyist said.

That’s rather clever, in a Machiavellian way.  Rangel’s power before last year, and his political connections in Congress, would have kept Pelosi from strongarming him into sharing power.  Rangel wound up needing Pelosi more than the other way around, thanks to the ethics probes, and she exploited his weakness expertly. Now that she has the mechanism in place for holding power, don’t expect her to give it up.

However, this puts Pelosi in a rather interesting — and highly hypocritical — spot.  She became Speaker after accusing the Republicans of maintaining a “culture of corrupti0n” with lobbyists on Capitol Hill, and not entirely unfairly, either.  Now we discover that not only has Pelosi presided over her own culture of corruption, the lobbyist march now goes directly through her.  That makes her more or less personally responsible for the lobbying activities at Ways and Means, and perhaps at other committees as well.  Does anyone doubt that Pelosi wouldn’t have made the same kind of arrangements at Appropriations after last year’s PMA scandal?

Meanwhile, just how nutty is Stark?  Investors Business Daily has a list of his greatest hits on video.  Hot Air has kept up as well:

I’m sure you get the picture.  Committee meetings should at least be entertaining.  How long before he threatens to throw a Republican out the window?