Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some Republicans Misrepresent Geithner's Tax Evasion So As To Dismiss It; An Early Test of the Loyal Opposition on an Important Principle

I am completely baffled by the dismissive attitude of some Republicans to the Geithner tax evasion scandal. Baffled. A major principle is involved, of the importance of character and honesty in public servants, and Republicans are deciding if they stand for this or not. For many, the answer seems to be "not".

Geithner is clearly a tax cheat, as I have opined (here and here). He has no explanation for why he failed to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, especially for the two years after the IRS audit, knowing that he signed an acknowledgement for his employer that he owed those taxes and knowing that he had accepted extra money explicitly for payment of those taxes. He has no public explanation because he will not admit what is obvious to everyone -- he cheated and got away with it. When Obama was evaluating him for nomination as Treasury Secretary, this tax evasion came to light (no doubt Geithner quickly fessed up in private) and Geithner then finally paid up his taxes, many years overdue. He knew all along he had cheated, and no doubt never expected to be a cabinet nominee when this would come to light.

Yes, we're in an economic crisis, and perhaps it would hurt to not have a Treasury Secretary quickly at work (although after how the last one has been doing, maybe we'd be better off without one for a while). But this is Obama's fault, to nominate a tax cheat to head the IRS -- so much for Obama's new politics. Yet I could understand why some Republicans might say something like: He's a tax evader and I abhor his behavior, but he has acknowledged his sin and repented, and only because of this extraordinarily urgent national crisis will I support the appointment, but in no way is my support a dismissal of the seriousness of his past action.

And no doubt some do say that. But here comes Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire on this evening's Larry Kudlow show on CNBC -- he not only defended Geithner's qualifications and supports him, he dismissed the tax evasion problem as an oversight and said that "when it became clear that he owed the taxes, he paid." Kudlow immediately called him on this gross misrepresentation, and said "that's not true." Gregg did not and could not defend his statement. Why does Gregg try to mislead the inattentive public to carry water for Geithner and Obama? Kudlow then interviewed Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who said, clearly holding to principle, that "someone who knowingly evades taxes should not be heading up the IRS."

And moments ago Hugh Hewitt, a leading conservative voice, said on his radio show that "I've never been one of those search and destroy types who goes after a guy because he didn't pay taxes on his nanny." Is is possible that Hewitt does not know that the nanny tax issue is only one of Geithner's many tax issues but only a relatively insignificant one compared to his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes? Could Hewitt possibly not know this? Hard to believe. He appears to present the false notion that Geithner's tax issue is about a nanny tax, allowing him to dismiss it easily. It is one thing to call the tax evasion for what it is but argue that exigent circumstances force you to support confirmation, and another thing entirely to label it a "triviality" (as Charles Krauthammer did).

The signs are that most Senate committee Republicans will vote to confirm Geithner. This is a very early test case for Republicans. What a horrible way for some Republicans and conservatives to begin the Obama era -- not as the loyal opposition dutifully keeping the majority honest, but as enabling rationalizers of a significant moral and legal failing.

The thinking apparently is that some Republicans fear appearing obstructionist. Oh yea, that's a big worry, knowing that Democrats Reid and Pelosi were as obstructionist as could be with Bush's agenda and appointments and look where it's gotten them.

Update January 22: Today the Senate Finance Committee voted 18-5 to support Geithner's nomination and move it to the whole Senate for a vote. Voting to support were all 13 Democrats plus 5 Republicans -- Cornyn, Crappo, Ensign, Hatch, and Snowe. Voting against were 5 Republicans: Bunning, Enzi, Grassley, Kyl, and Roberts.

John M Greco