Tuesday, February 03, 2009

President Obama Accepts Blame for Nominees' Tax Problems--All Well and Good--But What About Ties to Special Interests?

In a stunning turnabout, the Associated Press reports that Tom Daschle, President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services and to be the White House "health czar" for implementation of health care reform, today requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration for confirmation. Just yesterday evening pundits still predicted that, despite revelations over a failure to fully pay his income tax liabilities, the one-time Senate Majority Leader would win confirmation from his former Senate colleagues. Dashcle's withdrawal came just 3 hours after another Obama nominee, Nancy Killefer, nominated to be the government's chief performance officer, withdrew her name from consideration because she didn't want her mistakes regarding payment of payroll taxes to her household help to be a distraction.

In two televised interviews today, President Obama made clear that the buck stops on his desk. He accepted full blame for the bungled nominations, telling NBC "I'm frustrated with myself" for unintentionally sending a message that there are "two sets of rules" for paying taxes, "one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks."

I applaud the President for accepting responsibility--that's an example I would like to see more politicians follow, including Republican office holders.

However, the news accounts do not indicate whether President Obama takes responsibility for violation of one of his campaign pledges. He repeatedly attacked John McCain during the election campaign for alleged ties to lobbyists and special interests, and said that lobbyists would have no place in his administration. However, it is unlikely that Mr. Dashcle's nomination was sunk by his tax problems alone. What I suspect really doomed Mr. Dashcle were revelations over his lucrative financial ties to the very health care industry interests that he would be in charge of regulating as Secretary of Health and Human Services and architect of national healthcare reform. As the AP story notes:

Daschle also was facing questions about potential conflicts of interests related to speaking fees he accepted from health care interests. He also provided advice to health insurers and hospitals through his post-Senate work at a law firm. The controversy has undercut Obama's promise to run a more ethical, responsible and special interest-free administration.

Daschle is not the President's only nominee who has ethical issues. As reported by FederalTimes.com, William Lynn, the nominee for Deputy Secretary of Defense, may be precluded from serving due to the Obama Administration's tough new retrictions on former lobbyists serving in government.

Again, all well and good, and kudos to the President--unless he makes an exception for Mr. Lynn, because of the need for his unique expertise, in which case one suspects that exceptions of necessity will soon erode the Adminstration's policy.


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