If former Sen. Tom Daschle’s nomination as Health and Human Services Secretary goes down in flames, it won’t be because of a lack of support from Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
Bingaman, a longtime colleague and personal friend of Daschle’s, told me this morning that he supports the South Dakota Democrat’s nomination, despite the revelation that he owed the IRS more than $140K in back taxes. Reports are mixed this morning about Daschle’s chances of confirmation. The former senate majority leader has support among Democrats who control the Senate, but Republicans are howling and some influential voices, including the New York Times, are suggesting he bow out.
“It’s very unfortunate that these problems have arisen on his taxes,” Bingaman told me at the end of a wide-ranging interview on energy and health care in his Hart Building office this morning. “From his perspective, there is a case to be made that he tried to pay his taxes. He did file tax returns each of those years prepared by the accountant who had prepared his tax returns for many years. One of the years, the IRS audited him – in 2006 – and it gave him a clean bill of health.
“So now, on further scrutiny of the tax returns, a problem has been identified and he has paid the additional tax that was due,” Bingaman added.
That may be true. But I asked Bingaman if he could understand the outrage that some Americans might feel when they struggle to pay their own taxes only to see a Washington big shot essentially say “oops” and then expect to still be rewarded with a powerful government position?
“I can see how it’s a hard thing for the average person to understand how you can ever get $100,000 behind in your taxes,” Bingaman said. “But the truth is he didn’t get $100,000 behind in his taxes. He paid all the taxes he thought he owed and now he’s found out he owed more, and he’s paid those that are due.”
Bingaman expects Daschle to weather the storm.
“I think he’ll be confirmed; that’s my belief,” Bingaman said. “I think he’s very capable. He’ll do a superb job in that position, I believe, and I think he could be a big help to the president and to the Congress in getting this larger health care reform accomplished. I think it would be unfortunate if he was not confirmed and given a chance to do that.”
Again, that may well be. As a reporter, I’ve always liked Daschle. Like Bingaman, he struck me as a serious legislator, as well as a gentleman and a relatively humble guy in a town full of insufferable egomaniacs. But I’m inclined to side with the New York Times on this one.
President Obama campaigned on a mantra of change, and part of that message was that there would not be a different set of rules for the powerful and the rest of us. It seems to me that allowing Daschle to skate on his tax problem – especially after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner already got a pass – would seriously undercut that message.