- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

President Obama said Monday he “absolutely” supports Tom Daschle, despite the nominee’s tax problems that have delayed his confirmation hearings to be secretary of health and human services.

As the president held an economic meeting with Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a reporter allowed in the room for a few minutes asked Mr. Obama, “Do you stand behind Tom Daschle?”

Mr. Obama gave a one word answer: “Absolutely.”

The reporters were ushered from the room and were not able to ask further questions.

The Senate Finance Committee, tasked with dealing with examining the tax issues, is huddling for a private meeting Monday to decide how to proceed. Sources said they expect the hearings to continue and Mr. Daschle to be confirmed.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the committee, offered a statement of confidence in Mr. Daschle on Monday morning.

“I have applauded Senator Daschle’s nomination to the post of HHS Secretary, and my faith in his dedication and qualifications has only been bolstered in recent weeks by our numerous conversations about the pressing need for comprehensive health care reform,” Mr. Baucus said. “The ability to advance meaningful health reform is my top priority in confirming a Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I remain convinced that Senator Daschle would be an invaluable and expert partner in this effort. I am eager to move forward together.”

But Republicans have been questioning Mr. Daschle’s judgment since he failed to pay taxes on a private car service that a friend allowed him to use, and had to pay nearly $130,000 in back taxes and interest in amended returns at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Daschle, the point man for Mr. Obama’s plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system, also paid penalties and interest for missing one month of taxable income from a consulting client in 2007 and paid a penalty for faulty charitable deductions.

Mr. Baucus said the committee is “reviewing a number of issues with regard to Senator Daschle’s nomination as part of our vetting process.”

“As with every nominee, all issues raised will be considered carefully and thoroughly by the Finance Committee in the coming days,” he said. “The Committee will meet this afternoon to discuss the findings of this vetting process and next steps, and I will comment further once I’ve had a chance to hear my fellow Senators’ thoughts. We will also make public the information discovered and reviewed in the vetting process.”

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