Monday, February 2, 2009

Obama should reconsider his nomination of Tom Daschle as HHS Secretary

Tom Daschle: Apologizes for "unintentional errors"

Former Senator Tom Daschle, who evaded paying $128,000 in income taxes on income of $255,000 that he failed to report, has written to the Senate Finance Committee apologizing for what he called "errors that required me to amend my tax returns."

I'm sorry, but those of us who worry about whether we're accurately valuing the stuff we donate to the Salvation Army are not sympathetic. Also, anyone who ever worked in government is keenly aware of the need to declare such perks as cars with drivers as income. I think Daschle was an outstanding member of the Senate in his day, and it was a shame that he lost his seat. But there are rules that everyone is supposed to abide by -- and most of us do! When you start to think you're above the rules, it's time for someone to call you out about it.

Alas, it's still "business as usual" in Washington and seems likely that that Daschle will only have to eat a little humble pie at his confirmation hearings, answer a few sharp questions, and suffer the very modest embarassment of having some Republicans vote against him. President Obama has given him a renewed thumbs up; Senate Democrats are not going to oppose him; and indeed many GOP Senators will be satisfied to exact a figurative pound of flesh and then vote to confirm.

Here's the thing, though, Daschle is a tax cheat, a worse tax cheat than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and even by the most generous possible standard, hardly indispensable to the success of the Obama Administration. What's more, it looks as if Daschle sandbagged the Obama team by failing to come forward with the biggest tax issue (the car and driver) until after Obama had already nominated him. (That ought to give Obama pause about what he actually owes Daschle as an early, important political supporter. After all, if Daschle had been forthcoming about it, Obama could have averted a political mess by offering Daschle the job as "health care czar" on the White House staff, which doesn't require Senate confirmation, while filling the largely administrative HHS slot with someone who actually paid his/her taxes.)

Daschle has handed Obama a serious problem that's not likely to go away with his confirmation. On top of his tax delinquency, many of Daschle's recent business dealings and sources of income may cause ongoing troubles, as the Administration works to develop and pass high-priority health care reform measures. Daschle will have to take a very high-profile position on these issues, and it's going to be near-impossible to keep the controversies surrounding him from dogging him and the White House over the next couple of years.

The Daschle and Geithner tax episodes should be contrasted with what happened to John Brennan, a CIA veteran and Obama's key advisor on critical intelligence issues in the campaign and the transition and Obama's first choice to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan was forced to withdraw from consideration for the post, solely because he was a senior CIA officer during the period of the controversial interrogation policies, even though Brennan had nothing to do with these policies and had vigorously opposed them. He was too "tainted" simply by having worked at CIA. Instead, Obama nominated Leon Panetta, a smart guy but an intelligence neophyte, to head CIA, while Brennan goes to the White House as Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security (i.e., the President's in-house advisor on counter-terrorism).

But a guy can cheat on his taxes and get waved through to a high public office that could be filled just as capably by any of a hundred other people. Obama should rethink this. If he doesn't, my prediction is that he'll come to regret it.

What's your take? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- 2/3/09 -- In an editorial today, The New York Times says "Mr. Daschle ought to step aside and let the president choose a less-blemished successor." I think we can start counting the hours to Daschle's withdrawal statement.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree.
    Thank you for writing this.
    I believe it is very important and I wish that Pres Obama could read this.