Tim Geithner. Tom Daschle. Ron Kirk. What do these men have in common, other than their nominations to join the Obama administration?
Each man owed back taxes to the U.S. government that became an issue during their confirmations — in Daschle’s case, the debts were enough to derail his bid — and each man had their missteps unmasked by the Senate Finance Committee.
The Politico reported earlier this week that the Finance panel’s rigorous vetting was being supervised by Mary Baker, an IRS tax investigator doing a stint in the Senate. In that story, one anonymous “tax expert” quoted by the newspaper accused the committee of “going a bit overboard” with tax inquiries that are “detailed to the point of being silly.”
And that anonymous dissing didn’t sit well with Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), the senior Republican on Finance. In a little-noticed statement released late yesterday, Grassley teed off on the “cowardly approach” taken by critics of his committee’s Obama-nominee vetting:
We are vetting nominees for the current administration the same way we vetted nominees for the previous administration. … Then, as now, many nominees have had to answer questions arising from the review of their tax returns. Some nominees were not able to be confirmed, and some prospective nominees were not nominated as a result of vetting by the Finance Committee.
Those criticizing this Committee’s vetting process have taken the cowardly approach of attacking Committee staff. I think it’s ridiculous I even have to say this, but Chairman Baucus and I drive the vetting process for all nominees. Committee staff either works for Chairman Baucus or myself, and staff does what we ask them to do. It’s unacceptable that someone would attempt to blame a nominee’s tax errors on the individuals who discovered or asked questions about those errors.
In total, the Finance panel has discovered nearly $200,000 in back taxes owed by Obama nominees that have now been repaid, Grassley noted.
And the committee’s work hasn’t only focused on taxes. Annette Nazareth, tipped to become a senior Treasury Department official, also withdrew her name from consideration just as reports emerged that the Finance panel was examining her past work at the SEC. Had her bid proceeded, there would have been the chance for some welcome public debate of the agency’s spotty regulatory record in recent years.