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Sebelius’ tax woes downplayed

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

A key Senate Republican said Wednesday that tax problems should not derail the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as health and human services secretary.

Mrs. Sebelius, who faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, is the latest in an increasing number of Obama administration nominees to face obstacles regarding personal finances.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said Mrs. Sebelius made “a good-faith effort” to pay her taxes correctly, and errors discovered in a recent review should not count against her.

“We wouldn't be having this hearing if we didn't think the tax things were pretty well taken care of,” said Mr. Grassley during a conference call with Iowa reporters.

Mrs. Sebelius recently corrected three years of tax returns and paid $7,000 in back taxes for “unintentional errors,” which she revealed to senators in a letter dated Tuesday that the administration released.

The mistakes were related to business expenses, the sale of a home and charitable contributions, she said.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, whose panel has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Mrs. Sebelius for Thursday, quickly defended the nominee.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Governor Sebelius has the political experience, determination, and bipartisan work ethic to get the job done with Congress this year,” the Montana Democrat said Tuesday. “She's the right person for the job, and I look forward to hearing from her at the Finance Committee's hearing on Thursday.”

Mr. Baucus' committee has the final say in sending Mrs. Sebelius nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

Mrs. Sebelius' tax problem publicly surfaced almost two months after Mr. Obama's first choice to head the Health and Human Services Department - former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle - withdrew after reports that he failed to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.

The two Cabinet hopefuls weren't the only would-be Obama appointees to come under public scrutiny for tax problems that came to light after their nominations were announced. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis were confirmed by the Senate despite not having paid taxes on time.

And Nancy Killefer stepped down in February as the chief procurement officer at the White House because of tax questions.