More than 500 seniors recently crowded into the Canyon Lake Senior Center in Rapid City, S.D., to discuss with Sen. Tom Daschle the prescription drug bill that passed Congress last fall. Tom was there to listen to their concerns about the high cost of health care, to answer questions about the bill and to suggest how to improve a law that will not help the vast majority of South Dakota seniors afford the prescription drugs they need.
Sen. Daschle (D) opposed the final bill because it did more to benefit the bottom line of the big drug companies than South Dakota seniors. This is just the most recent in a long list of examples of Tom Daschle’s conviction that the solutions to the problems facing our state are found at the coffee shops, in the living rooms and on the main streets of South Dakota — not in the corridors of power in Washington.
In other words, Tom Daschle believes what is good for South Dakota is good for the nation.
Some argue that Sen. Daschle cannot be all things to all people: that he cannot be both Minority Leader and an effective representative of the state of South Dakota in the Senate. Having worked side by side with Tom over the years, I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth.
Tom Daschle is as attentive to his constituents’ priorities as any Member of the Senate. Each year, he travels to all 66 counties in the state to seek out the concerns and ideas of his constituents, and he uses what he hears in South Dakota to build a plan for America. As a national leader, he helped rewrite the farm bill, created opportunities for new jobs in the federal highway bill, improved rural health care, and strengthened our schools.
The Republicans have taken every opportunity to attack Tom as Minority Leader. They have called him “obstructionist” when he has done nothing more than stand up when the Bush administration’s agenda will hurt working Americans. What these critics fail to acknowledge is that although President Bush remains popular in South Dakota, his agenda often doesn’t match the needs of our state.
When the Bush administration refused to deliver drought relief to farmers, Tom Daschle never stopped fighting to bring home the aid that was so desperately needed.
When the White House pushed tax cuts that would send deficit spending soaring and place money into the wallets of the Wall Street elite, Tom Daschle fought for common-sense, targeted tax breaks for working families.
When the White House supported the biggest change to the Medicare program since its inception — a cash cow for the pharmaceutical companies — Tom Daschle fought for lower-cost prescription drugs and better coverage for seniors.
When the administration threatened to cut funding to one of the most important drinking water projects in the state — a project that affects the ongoing economic development of South Dakota’s most populous county — Tom Daschle pulled together our state’s Congressional delegation in a bipartisan manner and used his clout to convince the White House to reconsider.
I know Tom Daschle’s critics well. They spent more than $10 million on an attempt to unseat me in 2002.
At the end of the day, South Dakotans sift through out-of-state attacks and inflammatory rhetoric to make electoral decisions based on what’s best for South Dakota. Too often people in Washington think they know what kind of political advertising will sway South Dakota voters. More often than not, these people are wrong.
Travel the 66 counties in South Dakota each and every year the way Tom Daschle does. That’s how Tom Daschle learns what the people of South Dakota care about. The political operatives in Washington could learn a lot about South Dakotans by making a similar trip.
South Dakotans know Tom Daschle and trust him to represent them in Congress. They know Tom as a man from Aberdeen who never forgot the values he learned from his father and mother. Most importantly, South Dakotans understand the power and influence his position brings to our state.
Tom Daschle proves every day that he is, in fact, an effective Minority Leader in the Senate and a Senator doing an extraordinary job representing the people of South Dakota. To say otherwise is just partisan game-playing in an election year.
Sen. Tim Johnson is a Democrat from South Dakota.