Geithner Skated, So Daschle Couldn’t

Three weeks ago, on the eve of his Senate confirmation hearings and his would-be boss’ inauguration, word broke that Tim Geithner, Barack Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, had failed to pay $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes between 2001 and 2004.

The error had actually been turned up a month earlier by the Senate Finance Committee, at which point Geithner quietly paid his tax bill, but when it became public knowledge, the fate of Geithner’s nomination was called into question. But only briefly.

He apologized profusely and characterized his incomplete payments as an innocent mistake, and immediately won cover from several key Senate Republicans, including Utah’s Orrin Hatch. At the same time, Obama himself stuck his neck out for his nominee, declaring: “It is an innocent mistake. It is a mistake that’s commonly made for people who are working internationally or for international institutions. It has been corrected. He’s paid the penalties.”

Some Republicans decided to make a show of their opposition to Geithner, but a week after the revelation, his nomination cleared the Finance Committee on an 18-5 vote, and a few days after that he won approval in the full Senate, 60-34.

Then there’s Tom Daschle, one of the first Cabinet choices announced by Obama back in December. An early and pivotal supporter of Obama’s campaign, the one-time Senate majority leader was tapped by the president-elect to lead the massive Department of Health and Human Services and to serve as the administration’s point-man on health care policy.

Daschle spent December hosting a series of town hall meetings on health care policy and when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took up his nomination in early January, a speedy and unanimous confirmation seemed to be in the offing. Then, for some unknown reason, the process stalled. The Geithner circus came and went but Daschle’s nomination was just sitting there, waiting for action.

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Geithner Skated, So Daschle Couldn’t