Tom Daschle has dropped his bid to become Secretary of Health and Human Services after not paying taxes for a car and driver. He must be flashing back to his campaign ad from 1986.
In his first campaign for Senate, Daschle, then a member of the House of Representatives, mocked the "BMWs and limos" of Washington, D.C. and touted the 1971 Pontiac he drove to work.
Daschle must surely miss that Pontiac now. It's not clear when, exactly, he retired it. But in explaining the unpaid taxes that derailed his appointment to Obama's cabinet, he cited how he grew used to having a car and driver as Senate majority leader, and didn't realize he'd have to pay taxes when he left office and a consulting firm extended him the same perk.
Since he was the guy who'd fix health care, it looked like Democrats could stomach Daschle's tax problems. But when Nancy Killefer withdrew from being named "performance czar" over less than $1,000 in unpaid taxes, the $140,000 that Daschle owed only looked that much worse. But the scandal was never about the taxes. It was always about that car and driver: an extravagance out of step with the times.
It is the classic Washington tale of the outsider becoming an insider — the most perfect parody of a limousine liberal. He went so far inside that he must now remain outside. Daschle, an out-of-touch millionaire, has been driven out of town by his car and driver.
Update: In a statement, Daschle said he feared he had become a "distraction." The Wall Street Journal reports that IRS scrutiny of Daschle's taxes has broadened beyond the limo perk to his dealings with EduCap, an educational nonprofit; its CEO, Catherine Reynolds; and her husband, Wayne Reynolds. The move to withdraw nevertheless surprised many on Capitol Hill, according to the New York Times. The Washington Post notes that Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, learned of Daschle's decision 15 minutes before it was announced — and that was after Baucus gave his support to Daschle yesterday.