Tom Daschle wants us believe it when he says his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes was an honest mistake. He wants us to believe that not reporting $250,000 in compensation involving a limousine and driver over three years was just an accident, and his decision to pay those taxes after he was nominated to head the Health and Human Services Department was merely a coincidence. He can explain why he wasn’t at fault when he failed to pay an additional $88,000 in work as a consultant—earnings he still has not paid taxes on—and can explain how he accidentally overstated his charitable giving by $15,000 in tax deductible donations.
The former Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota, who once declared on the Senate floor “tax-cheaters cheat us all,” has been doing a lot explaining this week. In a letter to leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, who will decide his fate, Daschle urged his former colleagues in the Senate to believe his “mistakes were unintentional.”
And yet, when he was on the other side of the Senate confirmation process, Daschle didn’t extend the same courtesy to another cabinet nominee whose nomination hit a bump in the road.
Shortly after my mother Linda Chavez was nominated by President Bush to be Secretary of Labor in January of 2001, ABC News reported that she had given room and board to an undocumented woman from Guatemala. As Chavez stated at the time, she had provided the battered woman with emergency assistance due to the domestic abuse she was facing at the time, got her enrolled in English classes, and helped her find work with a neighbor. In her own defense, Chavez pointed to her long history of taking in those in need, and a long history of paying taxes on household help from legal citizens, as tax records confirmed.
But Chavez’s honest explanation was completely disregarded by Daschle. Less than a week after Bush announced the nomination, the then-Minority Leader declared he had “serious problems” with the illegal alien revelations and threatened to filibuster her nomination, a move that would have been the first in our nation’s history against a cabinet nominee.
Daschle told CBS’ Face the Nation at the time that a cabinet secretary “ought to set the example, ought to be able to enforce all of the laws. If she hasn’t been able to do that in the past, one would have serious questions about whether she’d be able to do it in her capacity as secretary of labor.” But Chavez broke no laws. Shamefully, Daschle was turning what was an act of charity by Chavez into irresponsible accusations.
Though Chavez and her immigrant houseguest—now a U.S. citizen—both insisted that their relationship hadn’t been that of employer/employee, Daschle refused to entertain the explanation. And yet now, hoping to be confirmed by the Senate after much more serious allegations, Daschle wants to be taken at his word that his were honest mistakes.
Chavez eventually withdrew her nomination as Secretary of Labor, expressing regret that her controversy was becoming a distraction for the incoming Bush administration. Daschle applauded the withdrawal, stating without irony that “Ms. Chavez made the right decision…There should be no question that the person who is in charge of enforcing America's labor laws respects those laws.”
Daschle ought to make the right decision now as well, and withdraw his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. After all, there should be no question that someone who is in charge of enforcing America’s laws be able to respect those laws.
But in all likelihood, that won’t happen. In the end, Senators must decide for themselves whether to apply the same standards to Daschle that he applied to others.