Why, oh why, can't Democratic appointees pay their taxes? Tom Daschle has given Barack Obama another needless headache, and while he will presumably be confirmed, it's irritating in the extreme to learn that he had failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes. In a conversation with a South Dakota reporter who knows Daschle well, I asked how many people in South Dakota have a car and driver? How many people in Aberdeen, the town where Tom Daschle grew up? How many at South Dakota State, where he graduated from college? Good grief.
Anyway, here is an attempt to distinguish Daschle's case from Timothy Geithner's.
Geithner was forgiven his tax delinquency because he was seen as uniquely needed for policy reasons. As president of the New York Fed and as one of those who has been making major decisions in the financial crisis, he was seen as having unique abilities. It is now being argued that Tom Daschle should be forgiven his tax delinquency because he is uniquely needed. But he is not uniquely needed for policy reasons. He may know a lot about healthcare policy, but so do a lot of other people, many of them with views consistent with Barack Obama's. Daschle is unique not for policy reasons, but for political reasons. He knows Capitol Hill well, is an experienced negotiator, has excellent political instincts, and in all these respects is far superior to almost any other healthcare policy expert. So, there is a basis, for those who want one, for reconciling a vote for Geithner with a vote against Daschle. And there is a basis, if you want government-run health insurance, to vote for Daschle.
By the way, although much has been said about the clubbiness of the Senate and the unwillingness of senators to vote against the confirmation of former senators, consider two things. One is that 42 votes were cast against John Ashcroft in 2001, just after he left the Senate. Two is that, by my count, there are 31 senators now who didn't serve in the Senate with Daschle—plus the currently vacant Minnesota seat. However, only 10 of these senators are Republicans (Mel Martinez, Jim Risch, David Vitter, Roger Wicker, Mike Johanns, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, John Thune, Bob Corker, John Barrasso), who might well vote against him, while 21 are Democrats who will probably vote the party on this (Mark Begich, Mark Udall, Michael Bennet, Ted Kaufman, Roland Burris, Ben Cardin, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Jeanne Shaheen, Bob Menendez, Tom Udall, Amy Gillibrand, Kay Hagan, Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, Bob Casey, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and independent Bernie Sanders).