Washington Babylon — February 3, 2009, 8:49 am

Daschle Watch

The news just keeps getting worse for poor Tom Daschle:

Tom Daschle backed the patron who paid him a million-dollar salary and supplied him with a free car and driver for a job inside the Obama administration, two Democrats said Monday. Leo Hindery, whose InterMedia Partners employed the former Senate majority leader, had been mentioned as a possible secretary of commerce or U.S. trade representative.

“Tom was pushing for him,” said one Democratic source. Obama’s aides rejected Daschle’s suggestion that a top job go to Hindery, for whose private equity fund Daschle had served as a rainmaker and adviser.

And now the New York Times has called on Daschle to withdraw his nomination:

In both the Geithner and Daschle cases, the failure to pay taxes is attributed to unintentional oversights. But Mr. Daschle is one oversight case too many. The American tax system depends heavily on voluntary compliance. It would send a terrible message to the public if we ignore the failure of yet another high-level nominee to comply with the tax laws…

Although Mr. Daschle was not a registered lobbyist, he offered policy advice to the UnitedHealth Group, a huge insurance conglomerate. He was also a trustee of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, on whose behalf he voiced opposition to a federal loan for a freight rail line near the clinic’s headquarters in Rochester, Minn. The loan was subsequently denied by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Mr. Daschle is another in a long line of politicians who move cozily between government and industry. We don’t know that his industry ties would influence his judgments on health issues, but they could potentially throw a cloud over health care reform. Mr. Daschle could clear the atmosphere by withdrawing his name.

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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