Why I feel sorry for Tom Daschle (and Nancy Killefer)


So Daschle's nomination is no more: he joins Nancy Killefer as the day's second casualty. And it's hard not to to think that Timothy Geithner has just been named the lucky winner of the confirmation lottery. Is there anyone claiming that if Geithner were judged by the standard applied to Daschle and Killefer, he would have made it through the gauntlet?

For that reason, it seems like this is going to hang a cloud over Geithner's tenure at Treasury. I hope it hangs a cloud over the administration, too. If all three nominations had gone through then at least the administration could plausibly claim that it was treating past tax errors consistently. If none had gone through it could claim the same thing. Or if there were clear differences between the cases of Geithner, Daschle and Killefer -- differences that indicated an obvious intention to avoid payment in one case but not another -- then it could at least claim that justice had been served. Any of those options would have been fine. Really.

But now it just seems like the administration has a large appetite for the perception of virtue and small appetite for the virtues of consistency. It doesn't seem to care if there's any merit to the claims that these tax problems we unintentional. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. But the administration just wants the problems to go away.

The case of Nancy Killefer is instructive. She failed to pay $298 dollars in taxes. Two-hundred and ninety-eight dollars! It seems obvious to me that this was not intentional avoidance. Heck, the original news reports on her nomination seemed to think that this was not intentional avoidance. The AP story that broke the news on January 8 doesn't mention her tax lien until the ninth paragraph. The headline of the piece is "Obama's performance czar has tried to improve IRS," and the information about her $298 tax problem is introduced, in passing, as evidence that even hard-working managers can have trouble with their taxes:

But even an experienced financial expert like Killefer is susceptible to tax errors: Four years ago, the District of Columbia slapped a $946 tax lien on her home for a few months until she paid back unemployment compensation tax for her personal employees.

That's the only mention of problem until the last two paragraphs of the profile, where the issue is brought up again and described as an "embarrassing toe-stub," in the way that wearing a mismatched outfit or tripping on the sidewalk might be described as an "embarrassing toe-stub." It turned out to be a trainwreck. Is that Killefer's fault or the administration's? Seems obvious to me. But then again, so did the fact that she wasn't trying to steal $298 dollars from the federal government.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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