LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
The former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, went back to Capitol Hill yesterday to apologize. Daschle is the nominee to be the secretary of Health and Human Services, but over the weekend we learned that Daschle recently paid more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest for the past three years.
NPR's Julie Rovner reports on Daschle's efforts to win confirmation.
JULIE ROVNER: Daschle met behind closed doors for about an hour with members of the Senate Finance Committee. It's a panel on which he used to serve and the one that will help determine whether he gets to take on his next job. After the meeting he came to the microphone. He says his tax lapses were inadvertent.
TOM DASCHLE: But that's no excuse and I deeply apologize - to President Obama, to my colleagues and to the American people.
ROVNER: While he was there, Daschle also did a little lobbying.
DASCHLE: I would hope that my mistake could be viewed in the context of 30 years of public service. And if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed as the Secretary for Health and Human Services, I look forward to working with my colleagues, Republican and Democrat, to continue to build on the president's commitment to ensure that all Americans have lower cost, high value insurance some time soon.
ROVNER: But first there's the little matter of those tax problems. There are three separate pieces. The smaller are charitable deductions for which Daschle and his wife didn't have adequate documentation, and a clerical error by a client that resulting in not reporting a payment of nearly $90,000.
The one that's caught most of the attention, though, was the use of a car and driver that Daschle failed to report as income. It cost him 102,000 of the $140,000 paid in back taxes and interest.
Democratic members of the finance panel, like North Dakota's Kent Conrad, were quick to defend their former colleague and leader.
KENT CONRAD: Most of the mistakes, frankly, were the mistakes, either of his employer, or the mistakes of charitable organizations that he contributed to who themselves had not done the appropriate paperwork.
ROVNER: At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama also professed his continued support for Daschle, who was one of his earliest backers and closest advisers. But at yesterday's White House briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was forced to defend the second Cabinet nominee in as many weeks to suffer from at least the appearance of impropriety.
ROBERT GIBBS: No one in this building or in this administration is insensitive to the report that was given this weekend about Senator Daschle. I think that includes Senator Daschle. He discovered a mistake, mistakes he'd made on his taxes, and he's paid now what he owed and paid interest on that.
ROVNER: Republicans who attended the Finance Committee meeting agreed not to comment. But one Finance Committee Republican who wasn't there and was willing to talk was John Ensign of Nevada, and he says he remains skeptical about what he's heard.
JOHN ENSIGN: Daschle was on the Finance Committee all those years. I mean, anybody knows - you know, I was a practicing veterinarian. You know, my accountant would say, hey, you could take 50 percent deduction on your car, you know, but I didn't use my car. But you knew you had to claim that. That was so obvious. You know you have to pay your Medicare taxes.
ROVNER: It still seems unlikely that Daschle's nomination is in real trouble. Senate Democrats alone could provide the votes to get him confirmed. But it's not just Daschle's tax troubles that have people upset, and it's not just Republicans who are unhappy. Even some Democrats, mostly off the record, say they're uncomfortable about the fact that Daschle has earned more than $5 million since he left the Senate, offering what's known in Washington as strategic advice.
And more than $200,000 of that came from health industry groups he'll be in charge of regulating, which doesn't exactly make him a poster child for the new administration's claims of changing the way Washington does business.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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