Daschle’s tax troubles

DASCHLE’S TAX TROUBLES…. Tim Geithner’s tax “issues” were relatively minor, and easy to overlook. Tom Daschle’s are more problematic.

ABC News has learned that the nomination of former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to be President Obama’s secretary of health and human services has hit a traffic snarl on its way through the Senate Finance Committee.

The controversy deals with a car and driver lent to Daschle by a wealthy Democratic friend — a chauffeur service the former senator used for years without declaring it on his taxes.

It remains an open question as to whether this is a “speed bump,” as a Democratic Senate ally of Daschle put it, or something more damaging.

During the vetting process, Daschle paid back taxes in excess of $100,000, including interest and penalties, after his accountant discovered some errors. What kind of errors? “[U]nreported consulting fees, questionable charitable contributions, and a car and driver provided by a private equity firm run by entrepreneur and longtime Democratic Party donor Leo J. Hindery Jr.”

Ouch.

Daschle spokeswoman Jenny Backus told reporters that Daschle made no effort to hide the error. The former Senate Majority Leader “expressed his regret, he knew he made a mistake and he was fully responsible for it. He fixed it to the nth degree by filing all these amended returns. He is embarrassed. He fixed it and answered all these questions about it.” She added, “It is a stupid mistake.”

As for what happens next, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration is “confident the committee is going to schedule a hearing for him very soon and he will be confirmed.” Likewise, Harry Reid’s office is similarly “confident” about Daschle’s eventual confirmation. Senate Republicans are, however, predicting Daschle’s withdrawal.

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, Daschle’s tax mistakes were jaw-droppingly foolish. On the other hand, he has an exceptional career, he’s admitted wrongdoing, he’s corrected his error, and he’s probably the single most important person in government right now when it comes to a historic overhaul of the American healthcare system.

We’ll see what happens.