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Editorial: Stimulating tax payments

Even President Barack Obama’s harshest critics must admit that his Cabinet choices are already yielding results for the nation’s balance sheet and our battered economy.
If Obama had not nominated Timothy Geithner for secretary of the Treasury, who knows whether he would ever have gotten around to paying that “overlooked” tax obligation that put $43,000 in Uncle Sam’s pocket?
If former Sen. Tom Daschle hadn’t been nominated to head Health and Human Services, how likely is it he would have experienced the sudden 1040 epiphany that prompted him to pay $128,000 in back taxes, plus $12,000 in interest, for undeclared income and other accounting lapses?
That’s almost $200,000 extra in the federal treasury within a few weeks! Admittedly, compared to a few trillion spent on corporate bailouts, this may appear a trifling amount. But remember that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one-time Commerce nominee, didn’t even have a fair chance to review his tax situation before withdrawing his nomination because of a grand jury probe into how state contracts were issued to political donors. And the nominee chosen in his stead, Vermont Sen. Judd Gregg, hasn’t yet been confirmed, so there’s a good chance that more “overlooked” payments could materialize in the near future.
We’re speaking satirically, of course. In reality, there’s nothing laudable or laughable about the fact that high-ranking members of the government may have cut corners on paying their taxes and only ‘fessed up because it jeopardized their future service in the Obama administration. What makes it all the more galling is that these are not people who would have to hock the family jewels to pay their tax obligations. Since leaving the Senate, Daschle has earned millions as a corporate consultant, including significant sums for speeches given to the health industry he would help regulate if his nomination is approved. Geithner earned $411,200 in wages last year in his former job as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. He also received a severance payment from the bank totaling $434,668.
Even if cast in the best possible light as honest mistakes ó which just happened to come to mind when they were nominated for Cabinet positions ó the lapses hardly inspire faith in the fiduciary abilities of these choices for high government position, especially following on the heels of reports that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, failed to list income from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic. Apparently, they all follow the Leona Helmsley school of tax interpretation.
Perhaps any new economic stimulus package should include a provision that rigorous tax audits going back at least five years be performed on all current members of Congress, as well as all prospective Cabinet nominees. The results probably wouldn’t help restore confidence in government, but it might help reduce the deficit.

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