This is beginning to get redundant.
First, President Obama's choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, was discovered to owe $43,000 in back taxes; he had failed to pay self-employment taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund -- even though the had been told repeatedly about his tax obligation.
Now it comes to light that Obama's Health and Human Services choice, former Sen. Tom Daschle, was $128,000 in the hole for a three-year period. The Washington Post writes: "The back taxes, along with $12,000 in interest and penalties, involved unreported consulting fees, questionable charitable contributions, and a car and driver provided by a private equity firm run by entrepreneur and longtime Democratic Party donor Leo J. Hindery Jr...."
If the president truly is serious about his inaugural address pledge for a "new era of responsibility," then he had better show it now. Spare the Senate from another behind-the-scenes hearing and just drop Tom Daschle as the nominee for HHS.
Here are two main reasons why Daschle must go:
Because it comes hot on the heels of the Geithner issue, allowing Daschle's nomination to proceed would send a signal that Obama doesn't really consider tax evasion (accidental or otherwise), a serious matter. That's not exactly a good spot to be in -- considering the president and his party are planning on raising taxes (i.e., rescinding the Bush tax cuts) in the coming months. Again, what does the "new era of responsibility" mean if Obama's own lieutenants don't demonstrate any? If Obama doesn't hold these men to account, he undermines his own rhetoric.
The issue is more significant from a policy perspective. In the current economy, there wouldn't be any incentive to pay taxes on time when wealthy members of Obama's own administration just blow off the law. (Daschle was making well over $3 million between law firm and investment bank jobs.)
There is a second, more significant reason why Daschle has to go. In the world of Washington, he has committed one of the cardinal sins in politics: Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Thy (soon-to-be) Boss -- especially if he's the president.
This tax stuff didn't just pop out of the blue. The New York Times reported that Daschle knew about his back taxes in June. By then he had already been a close adviser to the Obama campaign for months. He would regularly appear as a campaign surrogate on "Meet The Press" and other shows. And even then he was being mentioned for positions in a potential Obama administration, including vice president. How on earth could a former Senate majority leader let an embarrassing fact like that just linger until he's about to be selected for a Cabinet slot?
Furthermore, the story reeks of too many examples of Daschle quote-naively-unquote not realizing that he had to pay taxes on the car and driver. He thought, says his spokeswoman, it was "nothing more than a generous offer from a friend." What? Give. Us. A. Break.
If Obama keeps Daschle around, he sends one unfortunate signal to the public. He sends an even worse message to the other staffers and members of the administration; that they can embarrass their president with impunity.
For that, Daschle's got to go.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.