Daschle aides get parting gift

Aides to defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) won’t be getting a gold watch. But they will receive a severance package to keep them financially afloat as they look for new jobs, thanks to a resolution passed by the Senate just before it adjourned early Sunday morning.

The package is far short of the “golden parachutes” that go along with top corporate jobs, but it could help ease some of the financial and emotional pain that Daschle’s staff has experienced after his stinging loss.
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The severance package is meant to help ease some of the financial and emotional pain that Sen. Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) staff has experienced.

The resolution, titled “Displaced staff members of senators and Senate leaders,” modifies Senate rules to provide up to two months’ pay and benefits to leadership staff or personal-office aides when the senator they work for is defeated in the elections. Daschle was the only incumbent senator to be defeated this year.

“It’s a decent thing to do to people who won’t have a job anymore,” one Senate Republican aide said.

Under the resolution, which was worked out between senior Democratic and Republican leadership aides and passed with no fanfare by unanimous consent, aides must have worked for a senator or Senate leader for at least 183 days to get the benefit. They must work for a senator who ran for reelection and lost, so aides to senators who announced their retirement would not be eligible.

The severance would begin after Jan. 3, when Daschle will no longer be a senator, and would stop as soon as eligible staffers got new jobs. The new Senate will be sworn in Jan. 4. (The Senate passed a resolution switching the swearing-in date for new senators to Tuesday, Jan. 4, allowing senators to begin the new session after a three-day weekend).

Previous resolutions, in 1984 and 1993, provided the same severance to staff of members who die in office or resign during their term or to committee staff who lose their jobs because a senator loses his chairmanship or ranking member slot.

Another provision applies the benefit to the Senate’s president pro tempore emeritus, a title created this Congress for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who gave up the office of president pro tempore to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) when Republicans regained control of the Senate. Byrd was able to maintain his chauffeur-driven Cadillac and a small staff when he assumed the emeritus post.

According to a Republican Senate aide, this provision would bring Byrd’s president pro tempore staff in line with members of his Appropriations Committee and personal-office staffs — who would be entitled to benefits if he were to die, resign or lose reelection in 2006.

Republicans fought relentlessly to ensure Daschle’s defeat, orchestrating a prolonged campaign to portray him as an obstructionist of President Bush’s policies and nominees. Daschle lost to former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), who was recruited by Bush to run against Daschle.

At least one Republican seemed to have some difficulty transitioning into the post-Daschle era. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) slammed the defeated leader for obstruction during a press conference after her election as chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Only a few Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Bill Frist (Tenn.), made it to the Senate chamber for Daschle’s farewell speech last week. Democratic aides had given advance notice to Democratic senators, most of whom showed up.

Republicans nevertheless have made a few gestures toward Daschle since his defeat.

Last week, the White House sent up nomination papers for Jonathan Adelstein, a former Daschle aide who serves on the Federal Communications Commission. The administration had failed to renominate Adelstein to a new term for more than a year, despite Daschle’s insistence. Democrats historically get to recommend people to fill certain slots on federal boards and commissions.

Adelstein’s nomination was confirmed as part of a package of nearly 173 executive nominees. As part of the deal, the White House also agreed to recess-appoint Gregory Jaczko to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the start of the year — a concession to Daschle’s successor as minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Jaczko is a former Reid adviser.

Daschle, who was elected to the Senate in 1986, was himself a former aide to Sen. James Abourezk in the 1970s. Some Daschle aides have had difficulty so far securing opportunities to work on K Street, since there is a glut of unemployed Democrats at a time of unified GOP control of government.

Some Senate Republicans admit to feeling sympathy for Daschle’s leadership staffers, many of whom are well liked and respected despite some lingering friction between Republicans and their boss.

“You know us — we’re just softies,” one Senate Republican aide said. “We’re compassionate conservatives. Send a few more packing — we’d be happy to give a severance package to them as well.”