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Daschle's Withdrawal - Did He Do the Right Thing?

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Post asked former politicians and others about the implications of Thomas A. Daschle's decision to withdraw his nomination to be secretary of health and human services. Below are contributions from Linda Chavez, Ed Rogers, Douglas E. Schoen, Tommy G. Thompson, Greg Mueller, Drew Altman and Alex Castellanos.

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LINDA CHAVEZ

Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity; former member of the Reagan administration

In 2001, my nomination to be secretary of labor foundered on revelations that I had given shelter and financial assistance to an illegal immigrant a decade earlier, provoking then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle to hint that he might filibuster my confirmation. In recent days, revelations about Daschle's own problems, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in undeclared income and the failure to pay taxes on it, turned out to be far more serious.

At some point in the confirmation process, a nominee has to decide whether he or she is becoming a distraction to the president. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax problems paled in comparison with the financial crisis he was believed to be able to solve. Daschle wasn't as lucky. It may have taken him several days, but Daschle finally made the right decision. As Daschle himself said when I withdrew, "There should be no question the person who is in charge of enforcing . . . laws respects those laws."

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; group chairman of BGR Holding

It looks like the status quo is holding in Washington. If Tom Daschle didn't do anything illegal or deceitful, he should not have withdrawn. We Republicans would have had our say and our fun. Let's face it, the liberal insider who forgot to pay taxes on the limo given to him by the New York financier would have been a good piƱata for us.

But, naive as it may sound, I thought this nomination presented an opportunity to see if we could actually argue about policy. Tom Daschle is a steady hand whom any president could use, especially Barack Obama, given his inexperience. I thought this could have been an occasion for Republicans to say, "No more of the politics of personal destruction that has victimized so many Republicans." (Remember Linda Chavez?) Obama could have been true to his pledge to change Washington by sticking with Daschle and encouraging Republicans to move on and Democrats not to gloat.

Now, Daschle's quick exit was not caused by Republicans, so maybe there is more to the story. We will probably never know.

But Republicans should not think that this is winning. The voters are sick of posturing, and they can sense phony outrage. They see through our crocodile tears and self-righteousness. Republicans should still look for chances to prove that our disagreements are over policy, not personalities, and it appears that the Obama administration will give us plenty of opportunity.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

I have liked and respected Tom Daschle since helping him win two tough congressional elections more than 25 years ago, but he clearly did the right thing by withdrawing.

I accept his apology for having failed to pay approximately $146,000 in taxes, and I accept his explanation of how that happened.

Nonetheless, it is hard to understand why Daschle knew since at least June that he had a serious tax problem but said nothing until last month. And it is disquieting -- at the least -- for him to think that there was nothing unusual in his having accepted the free use of a car and driver from a business associate for three years.

It was also wrong for Daschle to put his name forward for secretary of health and human services given the numerous speeches he gave to groups in the industry he was being asked to reform, as well as numerous other special interests.

President Obama has made it clear that he is setting a higher bar for ethics and probity; Daschle fell short. Despite the words of support Daschle has received from Democrats and some Republicans, it is likely to be even more difficult for the new administration to build public confidence in its policies and enduring bipartisan sentiment in Washington given Daschle's acknowledged ethical lapses.

TOMMY G. THOMPSON

Secretary of health and human services in the George W. Bush administration; partner at Akin Gump

With all that needs to be urgently accomplished on health care, I was sorry to see Tom Daschle withdraw his name from consideration as HHS secretary. Tom is a skilled consensus-builder, knowledgeable about the political process, liked by members of both parties and an expert on health-care issues. America is the land of second chances, and given Tom's long and distinguished tenure as a public servant, he should have been given a second chance. It would have required complete transparency -- something I believe he was prepared to offer.

Our most pressing health-care issues include the number of uninsured, runaway costs and challenges at the Food and Drug Administration. I am deeply concerned that America remains vulnerable to a biological, chemical or nuclear attack -- we need to properly fund and prioritize bioterrorism preparedness and research. These issues must be prioritized. While Tom and I do not agree on every policy issue, I believe his abilities as a leader, negotiator and health expert made him the right person for the job.

GREG MUELLER

Republican strategist and former senior aide to the presidential campaigns of Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan

By withdrawing, Tom Daschle may have helped President Obama stop the bleeding from an array of embarrassing high-level personnel decisions by the new administration. First, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for commerce secretary over an investigation involving bribery and his state government. This was followed by the scandal surrounding newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, an admitted -- but sorrowful -- tax evader who will now collect taxes or fine other evaders as he oversees the IRS. Today, just before Daschle stepped back, yet another tax evader, would-be chief performance officer Nancy Killefer, withdrew her own nomination.

There must be concern among Obama's political champions that compounding embarrassments related to alleged bribery and tax evasion are not at all the "change we can believe in" but, rather, all too similar to the scandal surrounding Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor who was impeached and removed from office. Candidate Obama promised a new day in Washington, but so far President Obama's new Washington looks a lot like old Chicago politics.

DREW ALTMAN

President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation

Tom Daschle was a perfect choice to lead the Obama administration's efforts to revamp the health-care system: He knows Capitol Hill, he knows the issue and he knows the president. The failure of his nomination is a setback for health-care reform. But this blow should not be fatal.

Americans who have never heard of Tom Daschle are still standing in line at low-cost clinics, losing their jobs and their insurance, and struggling to pay the ever-rising costs of medical care.

The doomed health reform effort in the early 1990s became known as Hillary Care. Now the issue is not personalized; there is no Daschle Plan or even an Obama Plan. This time, the White House has signaled that health-care reform will be a negotiation between the administration, key players in Congress and even powerful interest groups.

The next secretary of health and human services must be able to keep health-care reform near the top of the priorities competing for attention within the White House and must be an effective negotiator with Congress. It is even more important that the president continue to put health reform legislation at the forefront while the recession has the public and business calling for change. Congressional leaders, including Sens. Max Baucus and Edward Kennedy, must quickly agree on legislation that can bring all sides together.

The loss of Daschle hurts, but it is the president and key congressional leaders who will make or break health reform this time.

ALEX CASTELLANOS

Republican media consultant

No one comes to Washington to do business as usual. The "best and the brightest", Democrat and Republican, always come for noble ends, to serve the common-good, not to corrupt themselves. So why do many good public servants like Tom Daschle, do exactly that?

The power of government to plan and command the lives of individuals is now expanding at a pace unseen in history. A more powerful state is being tasked with securing our jobs, health care, the air we breathe and our incomes.

Government planning is the only growth industry in the country. When Washington assumes such monopolistic power, however, it also creates a corrupt morality. What rule cannot be bent, what individual flaw cannot be overlooked for the good of the whole, so that "the best and brightest" can achieve the noblest ends? After all, it is for our collective good, not theirs.

The gods of government, who do so much for us, should not have to play by mortal rules. That was the arrogance of Tom Daschle. It was right that he resign.

The ends-justify-the-means is a singularly un-American argument. At least, it was, not long ago, though it is less so everyday.


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