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This is change?

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–One of President Obama’s campaign mantras was “change we can believe in.” The new administration has been in office less than a week and we are indeed seeing change, but I’m really having trouble believing it.

Timothy Geithner, the president’s choice for secretary of the Treasury, was found to have not paid self-employment taxes from 2001 to 2004. Reports indicate the amount of the taxes to be more than $34,000.

Geithner sought to deal with the tax issue by paying the rest of the money owed just days before he was announced as Obama’s choice to head the Treasury Department. Reports indicated that he paid a portion of the taxes in 2006 when the Internal Revenue Department sent him a bill.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, the committee charged with confirming Obama’s appointment, shrugged off Geithner’s problems as hiccups and honest mistakes.

When Republicans on the Finance Committee pressed the tax issue, Geithner responded by saying:

“These were careless mistakes, avoidable mistakes, but they were unintentional. I should have been more careful. I take full responsibility for them. I have gone back and corrected the errors; I have paid what I owed. I want to apologize to the committee for putting them in the position to have to spend so much time on these issues.”

Geithner’s explanation was good enough for a majority of the senators. The Finance Committee confirmed his appointment to President Obama’s cabinet by a vote of 18 to 5.

I have trouble believing that the new president would nominate someone with Geithner’s tax problems for the post of secretary of the Treasury, which oversees the IRS. Reports indicate that President Obama’s transition team were aware of the unpaid taxes, hence the reason Geithner paid them just before his nomination was announced.

I also have a hard time believing the Finance Committee would confirm someone who had failed to pay self-employment taxes for several years. Making a mistake and not paying them for one year could be understandable. But making the mistake of failing to pay them for three years in a row is a bit hard to swallow.

Can you imagine how a Republican nominee in a similar situation would have fared with a Democrat-dominated committee? Do you wonder how the media would have treated him or her? You don’t have to. In 2001, President Bush’s choice for Labor Secretary had some alleged prior problems that derailed her nomination.

Linda Chavez was Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Labor. She had the distinction to be the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to a U.S. cabinet position. However, she withdrew her nomination when it was alleged she had given free room and board an illegal immigrant who had lived in her home more than a decade earlier.

The implication was that Chavez had employed a woman from Guatemala as a housekeeper. The media’s reporting on the situation, most of which was, at best, erroneous, coupled with the Senate committee’s collective scowl led Chavez to withdraw her nomination.

According to a variety of reports, the FBI followed up on the allegations and found Chavez completely innocent of any wrongdoing. It seems that Chavez was merely providing emergency assistance to the woman due to domestic abuse she was facing at the time. The woman was never employed by Chavez.

Contrast Chavez’ situation with that of Geithner. He readily admitted to not paying his self-employment taxes. Chavez on the other hand did nothing wrong. However, her nomination was dead on arrival. Geithner, on the other hand simply says, “I’m sorry,” and is confirmed.

If you are audited by the IRS anytime in the near future, just try Geithner’s tactic of apologizing for unintentional mistakes you made, and see what it gets you.

Geithner’s nomination and subsequent confirmation is troubling. Here you have a man charged with overseeing the IRS and, if we are to believe him, even he has difficulty understanding and applying the U.S. tax code. Either we need someone more astute running the Department of the Treasury or we need a radical change in the tax code. I think we probably need both.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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