It most likely won’t happen, but the majority Senate Democrats should vote down the confirmation of their former leader, Thomas Daschle, as health and human services secretary because of his income tax “oversights.” They probably should not have approved Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary for his.
One can be assured that would be the case had a Republican president nominated them. But the party in power generally has difficulty punishing its own for indiscretions. It’s the political double standard that Congress repeats far too often. In fact, the rule goes like this: “To err is human but to forgive is divine only if applied to members of one’s own party.”
For instance, Eric Holder’s nomination as attorney general was cleared by the same Senate Judiciary Committee whose Democratic members spent nearly four years relentlessly assailing the Bush administration for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department’s hiring and firing practices. All Mr. Holder had to do was say he was sorry for his key role as then-deputy attorney general in forwarding former President Clinton’s outrageous pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Never mind that Mr. Holder obviously was doing White House bidding when he sidestepped all the pardoning procedures in the Rich case.
Now after Mr. Geithner suddenly confessed that he and his accountants had “overlooked” a tax obligation and paid $43,000 more to the Internal Revenue Service, we discover Mr. Daschle owed a $128,000 bill for undeclared income and some unsubstantiated charitable deductions. He paid that bill and $12,000 in interest just a few days before his first committee appearance on his nomination in January. But now we learn he knew about all this several weeks before he was nominated for the HHS job but didn’t report it to the Obama transition team.
Add all this to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s decision to withdraw his nomination to be commerce secretary because of a federal “pay to play” investigation and one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the wildly heralded vetting process by the Obama team actually deserved a B minus or even a C. One also would have thought that a candidate like Barack Obama, who spent much of his campaign railing against the evils of Washington, would have been less inclined to select so many insiders, some whom were carrying undetected baggage.
More importantly, economically strapped Americans are less likely to overlook major income tax problems than almost any other indiscretion. This is especially true for someone like Mr. Daschle who made at least $5 million “consulting” here during the three years since he lost his Senate seat and rode around town in a chauffeur-driven limousine he failed to declare as income despite the fact it was provided by a client. Even in his home state of South Dakota where that kind of perk is not usual, they know better. Besides Mr. Daschle has spent 30 years in Washington.
The message the Democrats are sending if they confirm this nomination, which appears likely, couldn’t be more contradictory to their avowed opposition to elitism. They never miss a chance to accuse Republicans of tax favoritism based on wealth. Here is an opportunity to put their votes where their mouths are. Will they do it? Probably not, but it would be the right thing to do despite Mr. Daschle’s expertise in health care.
Both parties greeted Mr. Geithner’s nomination favorably. Even after he disclosed that he had miscalculated his taxes, he received an overwhelming confirmation. One of those who didn’t vote for him was Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a close friend of Mr. Daschle’s, who said he couldn’t forgive Mr. Geithner for not paying taxes he owed. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Harkin responds to Mr. Daschle’s problem.
These may seem like small indiscretions by busy, important men who just got a bit careless. That’s all well and good, but not a great argument when most taxpayers are held to a different standard. One has to wonder if Mr. Daschle would have caught the “oversight” had he not known he was going to be nominated by his good friend President Obama? The Democrats should step up here.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.