THE PLANK FEBRUARY 2, 2009
Over on The Treatment, TNR senior editor Jonathan Cohn has a thoughtful post about Tom Daschle. Here's how it starts:
The smart money says that Tom Daschle's nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services will go through, partly because his tax errors seem to have been inadvertent and partly because he's a former Senate leader still held in high esteem by his old colleagues. The Senate is like a club, in which membership crosses party lines; for transgressions like these, the thinking goes, they'll approve him. Still, all of that assumes the rules in Washington will remain what they've always been. And that may not be the case. Sometimes standards shift, sometimes very quickly. Sometimes, in other words, the smart money is wrong.
A separate question from whether the new information about Daschle will disqualify him is whether it should. And here the issue isn't simply a failure to pay taxes on time. It's also the fact that, over the past two years, Daschle made more than $4 million as a lawyer-strategist whose clients included health care industries--and that the income included more than $200,000 in speaking fees to some health care groups. President Obama has prohibited public officials who've lobbied in the past two years from serving in his administration, in order to insulate policy-making from the influence of corporate special interests. This prohibition did not apply to Daschle, since he didn't technically lobby on anybody's behalf. But did these gigs, separately or collectively, compromise Daschle's independence anyway? Can Daschle be counted upon to stand up to the special interests in health care?