What happens when your own cheerleading team starts booing one of your players? Barack Obama just found out. The New York Times has called for Tom Daschle to withdraw, and for Obama to find another, “less-blemished” Secretary of HHS, and not just regarding taxes (via The Corner):
When President Obama nominated former Senator Tom Daschle to be his secretary of health and human services, it seemed to be a good choice. Mr. Daschle, as the co-author of a book on health care reform, knew a lot about one of the president’s signature issues. As a former Senate majority leader, he also knew a lot about guiding controversial bills through Congress, where he remains liked and respected by former colleagues.
Unfortunately, new facts have come to light — involving his failure to pay substantial taxes that were owed and his sizable income from health-related companies while he worked in the private sector — that call into question his suitability for the job. We believe that Mr. Daschle ought to step aside and let the president choose a less-blemished successor.
Mr. Daschle’s tax shortfall is particularly troubling because it comes on the heels of another nominee’s failure to pay taxes due. We were not pleased when the president’s Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, admitted that he had failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in federal self-employment taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund despite having signed paperwork acknowledging the obligation.
Now we are confronted with an even larger lapse by Mr. Daschle, who failed to pay $128,000 in taxes, primarily for personal use of a car and driver provided to him by a private equity firm for which he consulted. Although the firm — headed by a major Democratic donor — had not issued a form 1099 for the value of the car service, Mr. Daschle said he became concerned last June that he might owe taxes on it and instructed his accountant to investigate. Neither was concerned enough to actually pay the taxes.
As the Times notes, the American tax system relies heavily, although not completely, on voluntary compliance. The IRS does not have the personnel to go door to door to demand financial records of every person living in America, nor should they. High-profile tax cheats undermine that system of voluntary compliance as an army of Hot Air commenters have noted. If Daschle and Geithner (and Al Franken and Charlie Rangel) can skip paying taxes with no penalties and still get high public office, why should any of us pay?
The Times takes a rather remarkable tone in this editorial as well. They don’t buy the explanation Daschle has offered at all — that he had no idea that he owed the taxes. The editors note that Daschle didn’t bother to actually pay the taxes until months after he supposedly began thinking about the problem. That only happened after Team Obama starting noticing some unrelated oddities in Daschle’s taxes during the vetting process.
And that brings up another point. The Obama transition team knew full well that Daschle had significant tax problems when that vetting process began. Why did Obama insist on keeping Daschle at HHS? Daschle had spent the last few years as a high-profile lobbyist for the industry Obama wanted him to regulate, which is exactly what Obama promised not to do during the campaign. So now we have a lobbyist and a tax cheat rolled up into one person, whom Obama insists should run Health and Human Services, and he knew all of this well before announcing Daschle and submitting his name for confirmation. It’s not like Obama can claim to be surprised.
Even Obama’s biggest cheerleaders object to the stink of Daschle. Perhaps Obama may start thinking about Plan B.