Baucus, Committee Democrats Line Up in Support of Daschle
By Paul Kane and Ceci Connolly
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) led a united front of Democrats from his committee pledging unstinting support today for Thomas A. Daschle's Cabinet nomination.
"The fact is, Tom Daschle remains eminently qualified to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services. He and I have talked a lot since his nomination," Baucus said after the committee met in a closed-door session. "We have talked about the need for overall health reform. And I know he will be a great partner in that effort."
Daschle, a former Senate majority leader who has clashed in the past with Baucus, appeared before the panel for the final 15 minutes of a 75-minute session. He acknowledged he recently paid $146,000 in back taxes and interest.
"It was completely inadvertent, but that's no excuse," he said afterward. "I apologize to President Obama, to my colleagues and to the American people."
Baucus called the mistakes "regrettable," but added that they "do not change his qualifications to lead on health care reform. They do not change my support for this nomination."
While Democrats on the committee united behind Daschle, Republicans maintained a stony silence on the nomination. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who had previously endorsed Daschle, joined Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) among those committee Republicans who declined to comment on the meeting or the nomination.
Enzi said that he left the meeting before Daschle even came in from the committee's anteroom to address the group.
Hatch later issued a statement: "The details of Senator Daschle's tax problems have been held very close for a month. I will have to see the actual details and discuss them with my Senate Finance Committee colleagues. I am hopeful we won't find anything too egregious that would disqualify him from serving."
The Finance Committee is due to meet again next Tuesday.
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