Con­nected: Ex-Se­nate leader Daschle wields clout in health de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JEN­NIFER HABERKORN

As Democrats’ health care re­form bill pro­gresses through the Se­nate, for­mer Ma­jor­ity Leader Tom Daschle has been mak­ing fre­quent trips back to his old Capi­tol Hill of­fice, now oc­cu­pied by his suc­ces­sor, Sen. Harry Reid.

The Demo­crat from South Dakota is what watch­dog groups call a pow­er­ful source of in­flu­ence on be­half of spe­cial in­ter­ests with skin in the health care de­bate. And he’s been wield­ing his power even though he’s nei­ther a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist nor a law­maker.

In re­cent weeks, the se­nior pol­icy ad­viser at DLA Piper, a Wash­ing­ton law firm that lists lob­by­ing clients such as Sanofi Pas­teur, which cre­ates med­i­cal vaccines, has been in Capi­tol Hill strat­egy meet­ings with Mr. Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat; Se­nate Demo­cratic leaders; and White House aides. On Nov. 30, he was the only per­son in one such meet­ing that wasn’t a mem­ber of the White House ad­min­is­tra­tion or the Se­nate.

“He may not be a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist by the let­ter of the lob­by­ing law but he’s cer­tainly a very, very pow­er­ful in­flu­encer work­ing on be­half of pri­vate spe­cial in­ter­ests,” said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, a Wash­ing­ton watch­dog group that runs www.opense­crets.org.

“He’s some­body who has in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful and close ties with law­mak­ers and has been an ex­tremely in­flu­en­tial voice on the is­sue of health care,” Mr. Levinthal told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Dec. 1. “That he’s par­tic­i­pat­ing in high-level meet­ings on this very is­sue as the Se­nate is de­bat­ing in earnest the fu­ture of health care in Amer­ica speaks to the is­sue of lob­by­ists, be them reg­is­tered or not, hav­ing a great deal of say or a great deal of op­por­tu­nity in in­flu­enc­ing this de­bate.”

DLA Piper did not re­turned a re­quest for com­ment. Mr. Daschle also has been a paid con­sul­tant to Unit­edHealth Group, a health care ser­vices and in­sur­ance com­pany, for pro­vid­ing “pol­icy ad­vice,” ac­cord­ing to his fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure filed early this year.

When Mr. Daschle joined the

“That he’s par­tic­i­pat­ing in high-level meet­ings on this very is­sue as the Se­nate is de­bat­ing in earnest the fu­ture of health care in Amer­ica speaks to the is­sue of lob­by­ists, be them reg­is­tered or not, hav­ing a great deal of say or a great deal of op­por­tu­nity in in­flu­enc­ing this de­bate.”

firm in Novem­ber af­ter a fouryear stint at Alston & Bird, the group said he would “coun­sel clients on a wide range of reg­u­la­tory and gov­ern­ment af­fairs is­sues.”

Mr. Reid, when asked why Mr. Daschle has been in­volved in the dis­cus­sions, told re­porters Dec. 1 that he is “an ex­pert in health care.”

“And, as you know, Se­na­tor Daschle was the lead per­son in the Se­nate for get­ting the Clin­ton health care bill through.”

Mr. Daschle also wrote a book, “Crit­i­cal: What We Can Do About the Health Care Cri­sis,” out­lin­ing how he thinks the health sys­tem should be changed and what lessons he learned from the at­tempts in the early 1990s.

In Jan­uary, Pres­i­dent Obama nom­i­nated Mr. Daschle to be sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and a leader in the health re­form de­bate. But dis­cov­er­ies that he didn’t pay taxes on car ser­vices, con­sult­ing work and char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions clouded his nom­i­na­tion and led him to with­draw.

Mr. Daschle was the Demo­cratic leader in the Se­nate from 1994 to 2004, serv­ing as both mi­nor­ity and ma­jor­ity leader, un­til he lost his South Dakota seat to Sen. John Thune.

Jim McElhatton trib­uted to this re­port.

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Tom Daschle

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