February 3, 2009

Once Is Happenstance. Twice Is Coincidence. The Third Time It's Enemy Action.

Happenstance: Tim Geithner didn't pay his taxes. He got egg on his face, but managed to get confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury. Which is kind of ironic, considering that he now exercises oversight of the Internal Revenue Service, the premier tax-collection agency of the government.

Coincidence: Former Senator Tom Daschle is now facing criticism over failure to pay taxes. There have been calls for him to withdraw his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. I'm not entirely sure I agree with that idea, at least in a vacuum -- he should pay his taxes, pay the penalties, and that should be the end of the story.

Enemy Action: But now, I see that President Obama's nominee for the Federal government's Chief Performance Officer has actually withdrawn her nomination for failure to pay taxes. Seeing as this is a less high-profile job than a full Cabinet post, and it is an actual withdrawal of the nomination, I'm reading between the lines and seeing something kind of egregious here. So, is there some sort of a secret Republican conspiracy to derail the Obama Cabinet at work here? Are all the GOP accountants staying up late at night going to Stonecutters meetings to guess who might be nominated to a future Democratic administration and trick them into not paying all of their taxes?

Look, obviously most Democrats do pay their taxes. But what is it with all these high-powered Democrats being nominated to the Obama Administration that they don't think the rules apply to them, too? I get it that they're financially well-off and probably have people managing their money for them -- at least in Daschle's case, a lot of his money was probably in a blind trust during his service in the Senate. So in his case, I can maybe see how having a hands-off money-management strategy may have contributed to his prediciament, which is why I'm willing to say let the man write a check and be done with it.

While Republicans certainly had other kinds of problems, I can't recall all that many who failed to actually pay their taxes.* And I seem to recall that this was an issue when Bill Clinton was nominating his Cabinet, too. This doesn't mean that President Obama shouldn't get the Cabinet he wants -- but it does mean that this is happening enough to become something of a trend, and I think it's something he ought to look out for in the future.

We don't ask a lot of people in this country. Oh, sure, we tell you to no kill people and steal their stuff and things like that -- but that's more on the lines of things we ask you not to do. In terms of things that we make you get off your butt and affirmatively do, your duties as a citizen are 1) if you're male, registering for the Selective Service, 2) service on a jury, if summoned and no more than once a year, and 3) paying your taxes. If you can't manage to do those things, and you have the apparent ability to do them, it does suggest a certain imperiousness that ill befits a public servant.

* I'm also reasonably confident that there are some dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who, after reading this, will make it their angry and righteous mission in life to provide me with as many examples as possible of Bush Cabinet nominees who were discovered to have had tax payment problems as well. If you are that person, by all means, please do inform me; I'm interested in that sort of thing. But even if you prove that "Republicans did it too," that still won't make it right.


wetblanket said...

The "Enemy Action" offense might be an overstatement.

Transplanted Lawyer said...

Obviously, I agree. Prof. Volokh is exactly correct in the post you link to. He just wasn't trying to hamfistedly shoehorn his observation into a James Bond reference.

Which is why he gets paid the big bucks and I write for a hobby.

The Bad Yogi said...

Well, I'm in agreement all the way. And I'ma die-hard Democrat. It's hard to believe that anyone in this day and age would think that this wouldn't sink their nomination.

But Killefer's sin wasn't taxes, but Workman's comp, I believe. Still wrong, but the rules around nanny's are arcane at best.

Transplanted Lawyer said...

It astonishes me that we're having all this sturm und drang over less than a thousand dollars -- nearly two-thirds of which are penalties. It really makes me wonder if Nancy Killefer maybe has something else that's been discovered that's a bigger problem than $946.69.

With that said, I still think she, and Daschle, and Geithner, should pay their taxes like the rest of us and it's unseemly that they did not.

DaveBuck said...

Will any of these tax problems become a motivator for bi-partisan tax reform towards simplification?

Consumption Tax???

Surely more politicians are evading taxes (knowing or not) than just these three!!