Why is it so hard to remember to pay taxes?
It came out last week that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had back taxes in excess of $128,000, and this week Daschle asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration for the Secretary of Health and Human Services as a result of such a failure of accounting. It should be no news that the public spotlight and an ethical microscope is used on our elected leaders in Washington, and even more so by their political enemies.
Yet, time and again, several prominent members of Congress forget either who they are, or what they do, and make mistakes. Or rather, conduct exercises in bad judgment. There was former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, failing to report thousands of dollars of free services from a private company. It should be noted that Stevens was, before losing last November, the longest serving Republican in the Senate at the time, having served over 40 years. You would think he would’ve known the rules by now.
The executive branch is not immune either. One of the more prominent political scandals of the last 20 years was when President Clinton lied under oath regarding sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Of course his defenders, myself included, were appalled at the fact that something as relatively inconsequential as lying about sex was sufficient for a costly investigation and unnecessary impeachment proceedings. However, given the lengths one’s political enemies will go, to derail your legislation or hurt your reputation, especially when someone like Clinton had just beaten their once-invincible leader, George H.W. Bush, you would think Bill would’ve been a little more cautious and a whole lot smarter.
Now comes Tom Daschle and his failure to pay taxes. Similar to Ted Stevens, Daschle is no newcomer to Washington, D.C. and probably should have known better than to tempt fate and risk any potential appointments by dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s. To be sure, Mr. Daschle always struck me as one of the more congenial and soft-spoken leaders of the Senate, especially in recent years, and I expected his nomination to President Obama’s Cabinet to be one of the smoother rides. But it seems working in Washington has a way of making one forget about the details, whether it be a failure to disclose, a failure of self-control, or a failure of accounting.