The withdrawal of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle from consideration as secretary of Health and Human Services follows a long tradition of "blood in the water" politics in a city infested with bipartisan sharks. But it isn't the sharks' fault. Politicians keep tossing them food.
The sense of entitlement among the powerful and privileged in both parties makes some people think they can live in an exclusive political neighborhood whose access is denied to others.
It was the late hotel magnate Leona Helmsley who uttered the immortal words, "We don't pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes."
Helmsley apparently has been reincarnated in the persons of now Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Daschle.
Geithner "forgot" to pay "only" $43,000 in back taxes and penalties. He paid the IRS shortly before his confirmation hearings when the "oversight" was brought to his attention.
Daschle stiffed the IRS for $128,000 (plus $12,000 interest and penalties), paying up just six days before his first Senate confirmation hearing. (He agreed to a Senate Finance Committee request to pay an additional $6,000 in Medicare on additional income related to a car and driver. More about that in a moment.) According to The Washington Post, Daschle waited nearly a month after his nomination before telling Barack Obama of his tax tardiness.
Daschle's rationale again exposes what is wrong with Washington. Recall President Obama's vow to "change the culture of Washington." With Geithner and Daschle (and prior to them, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who withdrew his nomination for commerce secretary under pressure of a federal investigation into how his political donors landed a lucrative transportation contract), we are still waiting for "change we can believe in."
When Daschle was Senate majority leader, one of his perks was a car and driver paid for by taxpayers. When he lost his re-election bid in 2004, Daschle was given a car and driver by the head of a private equity firm headed by entrepreneur and longtime Democratic Party donor, Leo J. Hindery Jr., according to The Washington Post, which cites a confidential draft report prepared by Senate Finance Committee staff.
Naturally, one who had been squired around when he was a senator and public servant shouldn't be expected to drive himself and search for his own parking spot, or worse, take public transportation. Once someone has enjoyed the power and perks of the Senate, it's difficult to come down to where the "little people" live. Perhaps some counseling would have helped.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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