Tom Daschle is the human toe fungus of Washington — a persistent infection that may disappear from time to time, but always comes back with a vengeance.
Despite abandoning his secretary of health and human services nomination in disgrace in February 2009, the K Street tax cheat who evaded IRS rules for years remains a top White House confidante and policy strategist. In fact, he's leading the drive to save Obamacare. He climbed up from under the bus back into the Oval Office and onto the sets of "Meet the Press" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" to offer his rescue plan.
It's Daschle's idea to morph the unpopular "public option" into nonprofit "health care co-ops" that will almost certainly receive government funding, support and tax advantages over private insurers. Old colleagues on both sides of the Senate aisle are now promoting his alternative. Last week, he penned a Do It for Teddy Kennedy pep rally op-ed in The Wall Street Journal urging Democrats to go it alone and depend on the backroom Senate reconciliation process if necessary to get a deal done.
The White House told The Washington Post that Daschle is simply a trusted "sounding board" and "friend" offering invaluable assistance as an experienced individual with a passion for health care reform. But Daschle is the dictionary definition of a self-interested Washington lobbyist and Beltway swamp creature.
Married to heavy-hitting aviation lobbyist Linda Hall Daschle, the former U.S. senator from South Dakota has earned more than $5 million as a professional back-scratcher since leaving life as an entrenched incumbent. In the parlance of self-exempting Team Obama members, Daschle is merely a beneficent "resource," as he described himself to The New York Times, serving the Public Interest.
The truth: Daschle is cashing in mightily on his role as "the architect of President Obama's health care plan" in the private sector — and evading lobbyist disclosure by reinventing himself as a highly paid "senior adviser" to D.C.-based law firm/influence-peddling shop Alston & Bird.
Daschle represents mega-insurer UnitedHealth, which opposes the pure public option, and Alston & Bird represents a total of 31 clients from the health care sector. According to D.C. watchdog OpenSecrets.org, "Of the $2,730,000 reported income received from clients, nearly 50 percent of that, $1,070,000, comes from these 31 health care clients."
Senate ethic rules forbade Daschle from officially lobbying for one year after he was defeated by GOP Sen.
John Thune in 2004. Now, it's 2009. Daschle has raked in millions in speeches and consulting gigs for health care industry clients. He has unfettered access to the White House, which is stuffed to the gills with his former employees — including his former legislative affairs director Phil Schiliro and his former top Senate staffer for 20 years, Pete Rouse, who serves as an Obama senior adviser.
Daschle quacks, talks and walks like any other federal registered lobbyist. But somehow, the rules don't apply. And Barack Obama, ultimate agent of Hope and Change, has no problem embracing his interest-conflicted, ethics-challenged dear "friend."
Let's not forget: Daschle the Dodger lost his Senate seat after asserting a bogus property-tax homestead exemption claim on his $1.9 million D.C. mansion — which he listed as his primary residence despite voting in South Dakota and claiming it as his primary residence in order to run for re-election.
Let's not forget: Daschle was aware as early as June 2008 that he might have to pay back taxes for the use of a car and driver provided by a private equity firm, but he failed to inform the Obama transition team until weeks after Obama designated him the HHS nominee in mid-December 2008.
The donor and personal friend who provided the chauffeured services, Leo Hindery Jr., had also made Daschle chairman of the executive advisory board of InterMedia Advisors, a high-flying investment firm. Daschle collected a million-dollar salary from the arrangement in addition to his private chariot.
Asked why he hadn't disclosed the cozy arrangement, Daschle "told committee staff he had grown used to having a car and driver as majority leader and did not think to report the perk on his taxes, according to staff members." It was a perfect expression of the culture of Beltway entitlement.
And let's not forget: In February, Daschle groveled before his former Senate colleagues to explain away the back payments he owed as well as dubious charitable deductions worth an estimated $146,000, including interest and penalties. Team Obama downplayed it as a "tax glitch." When Daschle finally withdrew, Obama told the country he had "screwed up" and promised not to repeat the mistake again.
But they never left each other. And now, Obama is trusting this man's judgment to salvage his government health care takeover. Remember this as the president delivers his joint address to Congress. Obama and Daschle are serving each other's interests. Not yours.