- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

If House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is known as “The Hammer” for his energetic fund-raising tactics, how should Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his Democratic colleagues be characterized for theirs? “The Extortionists”? “The Blackmailers”?

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Capitol Hill publication Roll Call characterized a recent episode of political hardball practiced by Senate Democrats as “an extraordinary example of Democratic lawmakers flexing their muscles to bolster the re-election prospects of a top party leader.”

In a quid-pro-quo political power play that linked legislative action to campaign contributions, Mr. Daschle’s fellow Democrats placed at risk the timely reauthorization of terrorism-reinsurance legislation. They did so because a couple of insurance trade associations and several insurance companies planned to participate in a fund-raising dinner for former Rep. John Thune, a Republican who is challenging Mr. Daschle for his South Dakota Senate seat this year. Once word got out that Mr. Thune would receive support from some insurance interests, several of Mr. Daschle’s chief supporters on the Senate Banking Committee — including the co-chairs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — apparently deep-sixed the reinsurance legislation.

The insurance industry had been depending on Democratic committee members to push the legislation because Republicans were reluctant to take the lead for fear of establishing another permanent federal program, Roll Call explained. In thwarting the reauthorization, Democrats didn’t even bother to conceal their motives. What should be particularly disturbing to all those good-government types who claim to be disgusted by the appearance of trading legislative favors for campaign cash is the fact that Democratic aides gleefully confirmed their party’s policy of directly linking the movement of legislation to campaign contributions. “It turns out that at the very same time that [insurers] are lobbying us, they are sending out a Thune fund-raising invitation,” one Democratic aide told Roll Call. “They were coming around looking for a favor. At this point, that hearing is the end of the road.”

It doesn’t take much to imagine the vehement objections that would envelop Washington if such a strategy were traced to a staffer in Mr. DeLay’s office. But in this case the fund-raiser was quickly canceled after the Democrats flexed their muscles. What will be dismaying — if the past is any guide — will be the hypocritical silence that likely will greet Roll Call’s disclosure of Democratic extortionist tactics and the braggadocio that accompanied them.

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