The withdrawal of Tom Daschle’s nomination to head Health and Human Services is a serious setback. This was an Obama appointment I had liked very much, because Daschle untypically combines real expertise on health policy with years of Congressional experience. I had also liked the way Obama had named him top White House adviser on health as well as head of the lead agency–thus avoiding the problem of overlapping or ambiguous authority that one sees developing in economic and foreign policy. Daschle, it seemed to me, was the very man to get things done. Perhaps he is out altogether; perhaps he will be retained as an adviser, and will have to work with whoever gets the job he wanted. In either case, not good.
The New York Times’s hard line may have had something to do with it. The paper had also rounded on Tim Geithner, as you may recall, but in that case did not explicitly call for the nominee to be ditched.
Another unhelpful development, from Daschle’s point of view: this morning Nancy Killefer withdrew as a candidate for a top job at OMB and “chief performance officer” for the administration–citing tax issues concerning her domestic help. (She is a finance expert who had led an effort to modernise the IRS in the Clinton administration. Subsequently, as a member of the IRS oversight board, she called for more to be spent on bringing cases against high-income tax cheats.) One oddity here is that her seemingly trivial tax issue has been public for weeks. Perhaps there was more.
The problems of Democrats and their difficulty over paying taxes have become the most memorable theme of this transition. The jokes write themselves and much of the derision is well-deserved. But I’m dismayed by Daschle’s downfall.