Commentary: Should Obama dump Daschle?

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

When Barack Obama settled on Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services secretary, it seemed a natural choice. Daschle knew government inside and out. He had a particular focus on health care, an Obama priority. The former Democratic Senate majority leader, 61, seemed a good person to run the department and push through sweeping health care reform.

That was in December. Two months later the out-of-government part of Daschle's resume is holding up his confirmation, for good reason. His work in the past four years as an ultra-connected Washington lobbyist (in all but name), and his failure to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes on a taxable perk of privilege, prompt the question: Isn't there someone else who could do the job?

No, the president says he's "absolutely" committed to his nominee. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate committee that's weighing nomination, is still supportive.

Loyalty is good, but Obama's administration has work to do. And already the new president's lofty standards for appointees' ethics have been dented by Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, whose tax troubles Obama and the Senate decided to forgive. There was a certain cold logic in that – in a financial meltdown, you don't let $34,000 in unpaid taxes veto the best choice to oversee a trillion-dollar recovery effort.

But where is it written that Daschle is equally vital to running the HHS agency and overseeing health care reform?

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.