Now that Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer have withdrawn from their Obama administration appointments, should Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner follow them out the door? After all, Obama admitted that he made “a mistake” in appointing tax cheats to high public offices, saying, “I don’t want to send a message to the American people that there are two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working every day and paying their taxes.” But doesn’t the continuing presence of Geithner show exactly that double standard?
National Review believes it does, and points out that Geithner’s violations were the most egregious of the three — and that having him run the IRS provides a new low in government hypocrisy:
Daschle’s negligence was gross, particularly for a party and an administration that have celebrated prostration before the taxman as a “patriotic duty.” But Daschle’s offenses, galling as they may be, are exceeded by those of Geithner. Indeed, of all the tax transgressions touching Obama’s circle, Geithner’s are the worst.
Not only did Geithner neglect to pay his taxes, he turned a buck by doing so—accepting payments from his employer for the very purpose of offsetting those taxes. When he took the money, he signed a statement promising to pay the taxes and then ignored his obligations—for years. Protected by a statute of limitations, he did not pay his 2001–02 taxes until his nomination made them a public issue.
If Daschle’s tax problems should bar him from managing the federal health-services bureaucracy and Killefer’s preclude her from scrutinizing the budget, how is it that Geithner’s transgressions—the worst of the lot—are insufficient to disqualify him from managing the same Internal Revenue Service whose attentions he evaded?
Obama erred in making his apology too expansive, as the double standard argument applies most to Geithner. After all, neither Daschle nor Killefer would collect taxes from Americans, as Geithner will do, with the IRS reporting to him as Treasury Secretary. Geithner’s presence will affront Americans who endure audits over the next few years and get adjudicated to their detriment.
Will Obama backtrack on Geithner? Absent a huge push from the Senate and the media, I’d doubt it. He’s been confirmed by a too-compliant Democratic majority, with the assistance of some spineless Republicans to boot. Obama will hang onto Geithner, hoping that the storm over Daschle and Killefer will soon die out, and hope that his vetting team does a better job on the next round of appointees to second-tier positions.
That’s too bad, because it’s bad for America to have tax cheats occupying high positions, especially at Treasury. Obama and the Senate kept saying that only one man could possibly be Treasury Secretary, but Obama has a perfectly good replacement on his team already in Lawrence Summers. We know he can do the job because he has already served as Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton. The only reason Summers won’t get the job is because of his misconstrued comments over gender and math education while at Harvard, which seems much less egregious and much less disqualifying than cheating on taxes … except, I guess, in the Era of Hope and ChangeTM.