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Tom Daschle, President Obama’s pick to run the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services, also has some tax issues:

Daschle
filed amended tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 to reflect additional
income for consulting work, the use of a car service and reduced
deductions for charitable contributions. He filed the returns after Obama announced he intended to nominate Daschle to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Most
of the additional taxes resulted from unreported income from the use of
a car service provided him by a close friend and business associate, Leo Hindery Jr. The unreported income for that service totaled more than $250,000 over three years.

Daschle
also had unreported consulting income of $88,333, in 2007. He also had
reductions to charitable contributions totaling about $15,000 over the
three years covered, according to the Senate Finance Committee document. The document, marked “Confidential Draft,” is a committee statement concerning Daschle’s nomination.

The White House insists that this “stupid mistake” won’t derail the nomination, as does the Democratic leadership. But given that Obama’s (self-imposed, strictest in history) lobbyist rules are also getting bent a bit, the tax flap is giving critics of the Administration plenty of ammunition to gleefully play with. Going to bat for Daschle invites a lot of distraction from the aggressive domestic agenda that Obama seeks to implement, and Daschle (a veteran Senator with many post-Senate “consulting” affiliations and other associations) may simply have too much baggage to be effective in pushing that agenda through. The sheen of technocratic comptence that is so critical to building popular support for bold policy starts to wear thin when your Cabinet picks keep making “stupid mistakes” (direct quote from an unnamed White House upper-up).

What was Daschle’s qualification for HHS, anyway? I am aware of his legislative record and policy expertise, but Daschle remains firmly within the old guard of the Democratic Party, the same generation as John Kerry (whose nomination for president didn’t exactly light a fire under America’s collective consciousness). It’s great to have the grizzled voices of experience and senior expertise in the diplomatic sphere (which is why I applaud the choice of Holbrooke and Mitchell as envoys – under Secretary Clinton’s direction). But in terms of executive leadership, we need new blood.

The argument for Howard Dean as Secretary of Health and Human Services is quite straightforward. He’s a medical doctor, and has more executive experience than anyone else in Congress or the White House. In his six terms as Governor of Vermont he paid off the state’s public debt, expanded health insurance for children, lowered taxes, signed civil unions into law, and delivered a balanced budget every year. And of course as Chairman of the DNC he implemented the 50-state strategy that gave Obama the foundation for victory.

The only reason Dean wasn’t tapped for HHS outright? Rahm Emmanuel, who bitterly opposed the 50-state strategy that brought his new boss to victory. As I mentioned earlier, Dean’s name was excluded from consideration quite early on, citing Dean’s “partisan background” and lack of congressional experience. That argument is total nonsense – and applies far more to Daschle than it does to Dean anyway. 

It’s time to acknowledge that Howard Dean is the right choice for HHS.

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