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First 100 days: Knives out for Daschle

The New York Times gives Tom Daschle a one-two punch -- with 1) a front-page story on how nominees like Daschle aren't necessarily following through on Obama's call for an "era of responsibility" and 2) an editorial calling for the withdrawal of his nomination.

The front-page article: "President Obama said Monday that he was 'absolutely' standing behind former Senator Tom Daschle, his nominee for health and human services secretary, and Mr. Daschle, who met late in the day with leading senators in an effort to keep his confirmation on track, said he had 'no excuse' and wanted to 'deeply apologize' for his failure to pay $128,000 in federal taxes. But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise." 

The editorial: "When President Obama nominated former Senator Tom Daschle to be his secretary of health and human services, it seemed to be a good choice… Unfortunately, new facts have come to light -- involving his failure to pay substantial taxes that were owed and his sizable income from health-related companies while he worked in the private sector -- that call into question his suitability for the job. We believe that Mr. Daschle ought to step aside and let the president choose a less-blemished successor."

It concludes, "Mr. Daschle is another in a long line of politicians who move cozily between government and industry. We don't know that his industry ties would influence his judgments on health issues, but they could potentially throw a cloud over health care reform. Mr. Daschle could clear the atmosphere by withdrawing his name."

The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos also piles on. For Wall Street excess, Obama was a "breath of fresh air" and "didn't mince words," Canellos writes. "But the following day, when news reports came out that Obama's health and human services secretary-designate, Tom Daschle, had initially failed to pay about $140,000 in taxes, mostly on a car and driver provided by a private equity firm, there was no scolding from the commander in chief."

More: "Already, the tax avoidance of his nominees is giving fuel to the late-night comedians who have struggled to develop a take on the new administration. And Obama, whose high-mindedness at times verges on aloofness, will inevitably be attacked for putting his own team's sense of superiority - the belief that Geithner and Daschle are so talented that they're irreplaceable - ahead of the normal sense of accountability that would apply to people who fail to pay their taxes on time. Tolerating such lapses could also diminish Obama's moral leadership, the strong voice that rang out in condemning last week's news of the Wall Street bonuses. The president's ability to call a halt to irresponsible behavior by powerful people is needed to fulfill his pledge to reform the political system."

In a separate report, the New York Times claims there are more taxes Daschle owes. "Daschle's failure to pay Medicare taxes on the income was discovered by the Finance Committee. The amount of the unpaid Medicare tax has not been disclosed. But in his amended returns, filed on Jan. 2, Mr. Daschle estimated that the value of the car service was equivalent to income totaling $255,256 in the years from 2005 to 2007."

Here's the rub, per the Washington Post: "Republicans remained noncommittal yesterday, weighing the costs and benefits of perhaps killing the nomination of a former colleague and close personal friend of the president. Democrats rose to Daschle's defense, including, most notably, the man who would be without much of his top staff were it not for Daschle." 

While the New York Times editorial board has called for Daschle to withdraw his nomination, the Washington Post's says Obama should keep him if he wants him. "Mr. Daschle deserves to be judged also on the basis of his long career in public service and his knowledge of and interest in health-care reform. Ordinary Americans who pay their taxes may well wonder why Mr. Obama can't find Cabinet secretaries who do the same. But if Mr. Obama still wants Mr. Daschle in the job, and he said yesterday that he does, based on the record known so far he's entitled to have him."