Embarrassing episodes involving Cabinet nominees Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner haven’t permanently tarnished President Barack Obama or his administration, but they have taken off some of the luster. Daschle, Obama’s pick to run the Health and Human Services Department, on Friday joined Geithner (Treasury) as Cabinet-level nominees acknowledging problems with the U.S. tax code in that they owed a lot of money to the IRS.
Daschle recently paid more than $120,000 in back taxes for additional income from consulting work and the use of a car service. Geithner wrote a check for about $40,000 for self-employment taxes he was supposed to have paid while working for the International Monetary Fund a few years back. The tax wobble, though embarrassing to Geithner, didn’t keep him from being confirmed as treasury secretary, and it’s a decent bet Daschle’s difficulty won’t derail his nomination either. Obama says he stands behind his nominee.
The trouble for the president is the perception. Does anyone in Obama’s Cabinet pay their taxes on time, like most Americans? And how does the presence of a couple of tax scofflaws in the Cabinet mesh with the “change” theme that carried Obama to victory last year? Obama might have shown real boldness if he asked his tax-challenged nominees to stand down. Instead, you can argue Daschle and Geithner illustrate the notion that the privileged few get a better shake than the Average Joe.
Daschle is well-liked by his former buddies in the Senate, and at this point it would be shocking if he wasn’t confirmed. But Obama’s white knight armor is getting some dents and dings in it, and the administration isn’t three weeks old.