NEWT GINGRICH knew what he was talking about when he once called Bob Dole "the tax-collector for the welfare state." The former senator and presidential candidate is now looking after the welfare of the House speaker himself. His $300,000 personal loan will enable Mr. Gingrich to pay the ethics penalty imposed by his colleagues under conditions that are likely to save his meteoric yet imperiled career.
Just how Mr. Gingrich will pay back Mr. Dole, both financially and politically, promises to be one of Washington's more intriguing sub-plots. Will Elizabeth Dole be able to count on Mr. Gingrich if she runs for the White House denied her husband? Will the speaker moderate his ideology to conform to Dole positions he once mocked? Will he use his influence to enhance Mr. Dole's role in the Republican Party?
Like President Clinton, now burdened by huge legal bills, the speaker is not a rich man. But the reputations of both of these protagonists insure them a handsome earnings potential to take care of their debts. Mr. Gingrich, in pledging to pay the Dole loan in eight years, has agreed to pay 10 percent interest a year and maintain a life insurance policy to cover outstanding principal. As for Mr. and Mrs. Dole, they are millionaires. The former majority leader made $500,000 from a credit card commercial over the Christmas holidays and his memoirs should be a best seller. Mrs. Dole is returning to her job as president of the American Red Cross.
Although the House ethics committee has approved the Gingrich-Dole arrangement, the speaker's unpenitent address to the House yesterday could irritate his Democratic opponents. He reiterated his well-worn defense of the circumstances that resulted in his submitting false information to the committee.
While he conceded a "moral obligation" to "reimburse" the House for the costs of the committee investigation, he insisted he could have used campaign funds, raised a legal defense fund (as the president has done) or relied on possible proceeds from a suit against his former lawyers. But any of these alternatives, he added, "would simply be seen as one more politician shirking his duty."
On that, he is dead right. Especially if he had dipped into his campaign chest, there would have been a clamor for his ouster as speaker. Now Mr. Gingrich can make a comeback by pursuing the kind of legislative agenda Mr. Dole championed in his Senate days. He still has the support of many Republican colleagues and remains one of the most compelling and creative of the nation's politicians.
Pub Date: 4/18/97