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Let's get it right this time

February 18, 2009
Most of us who supported Barack Obama for president didn't do so just because we liked the guy or even because we thought he would make the perfect president, if there is such a thing. And we didn't vote for him because he is black or because we didn't like John McCain.

No, most of us voted for him because he promised there would be "change" in the way we are represented in Washington, change from the failed policies of the last eight years that effectively ran this country into the ground. And change from the way lobbyists have taken over the House and Senate and are calling the shots on almost every bill that comes before the people we elected to represent us.

Obama hit the ground running after the election and began putting together a hand-picked cabinet and made what appeared to be acceptable choices in those he wanted to help him lead the country to another period of prosperity and pride.

But he has already made some blunders and made some appointments that smell a lot like "politics as usual." Everyone makes mistakes; that's why they put erasers on pencils. But when someone is put in a position in government where they would oversee the very people they used to work for, lobby for or represent, it stinks really bad. And it takes a lot more than an eraser to make the whole thing smell better.

I criticized George W. Bush on many occasions for the same thing. He put several people in positions they shouldn't have been in, including letting J. Stephen Griles run the Interior Department, when he had previously lobbied for the oil, gas and mining industries, and Mark Rey as Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, after he had spent years lobbying for industries affected by that post. And Bush got away with it, even though more damage was done than we'll ever know.

Obama hasn't been so lucky. Some of his appointments are already coming back to haunt him, and with good reason. Bill Richardson, who was Obama's pick for commerce secretary, admitted to being involved in an investigation of state-level company campaign donations and pulled his name off the list. Timothy Geithner, who was chosen to lead the Treasury Department, admitted to owing more than $43,000 in back taxes. There's something disturbing about that. This is the guy who's going to help steer the country's financial ship into calmer waters, yet can't pilot his rowboat out of the harbor? He was recently confirmed by the Senate, but many of us have reservations about him, and I know there has to be people who are just as qualified, and less controversial, to do this job without having to look over their shoulder, expecting the tax man to show up on the front porch at any minute.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle was Obama's pick to lead his health care reform campaign as the head of Health and Human Services. The South Dakota Democrat, once the Senate majority leader, was defeated in 2004. A strong Obama supporter and campaign advisor, Daschle waited almost a month after being nominated to be Secretary of Health and Human Services before informing Obama about years of back taxes he failed to pay for using a car and driver that was provided by a wealthy investor from New York. Daschle paid the $140,000 he owed to the U.S. Treasury on Jan. 2, then, two days later, told the White House and the Senate Finance Committee about the problem.

Obama defended Daschle's tax difficulties at first and when asked, on Feb. 2, if he stands by Daschle, Obama answered, "Absolutely." But the following day, Daschle withdrew his name from nomination, saying he didn't want to be a "distraction" to the Obama agenda. The president, much to his credit, admitted he had "screwed up" — something that presidents have been reluctant to admit.

I don't in any way blame Obama for Daschle's tax problems. But for me, that's not really the troubling issue. When Daschle left the Senate in 2004, he immediately went to work for the lobbying arm of the K Street law firm Alston & Bird. Because he was prohibited by law from lobbying for one year after leaving the Senate, he instead worked as a "special policy advisor" for the firm, whose health care lobbying clients include HealthSouth, CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and Abbott Laboratories. Alston & Bird was paid $5.8 million in 2008, between January and September, to represent these companies and associations before the executive branch and Congress, with 60 percent of the money coming from the health care industry. It was reported that Daschle's salary from the firm in 2008 was $2 million.

Daschle was uniquely qualified to run the Health and Human Services Department. He has worked toward creating a better health care system for the country for years and was known to favor universal health care, even co-authoring a book on the subject. But to have brought home a $2 million paycheck from representing the interests of companies tied to the health care industry is the same old Washington, D.C., and we've had about all of that the country can stand.

I remember watching a TV special a couple of years ago that showed then-Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas showing up for a meeting in a sparkling new limousine driven by a chauffeur. When the car pulled up to the curb, someone ran out of the building, opened the door for DeLay, who got out of the car wearing what looked to be a designer suit. DeLay was escorted to the building, where the door was once again opened for him, and he turned and waved at the people standing outside as if he was royalty. And this was someone who was elected to represent the people of Texas. Is that why we elect people and send them to represent us in Washington, so they can get filthy rich and be chauffeured around in a limousine? Let's hope not.

But somehow, people become power-drunk — and greedy — and their good intentions are lost to the self-serving antics of Washington and K Street, because that's where the big money is. It was DeLay who helped start the K Street Project in an effort to pressure lobbying firms to hire Republicans to top positions. He helped redistrict congressional districts in Texas to favor the election of more Republicans. Then, in 2005, he was indicted on criminal charges for conspiring to violate campaign finance laws, and the DeLay corruption machine came tumbling down.

Tom Daschle should have taken a cab, or driven himself around Washington in a Ford Taurus. Owing $140,000 in taxes for a limousine and chauffeur did him in, and it makes you wonder how many more are living the high life at the expense of those who supported them back home.

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    February 23, 2009 | 02:26 PM

    Only in office a month, and he has already spent close to a trillion dollars, and almost his entire administration belonged to the CLinton aministration. Where is the change?

    Angry Taxpayer
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