4:30 p.m. ET: This morning, The Rundown wrote that Kathleen Sebelius would have little trouble being confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary "assuming, as we are now hesitant to do, that she's always paid her taxes."
Well, as far as we know, Sebelius has paid all her taxes in a timely fashion but yet another administration nominee hasn't. Ron Kirk, Obama's pick to be U.S. Trade Representative, has failed to pay almost $10,000 in taxes over the last three years, according to a report from the Senate Finance Committee.
At this point it might be appropriate to wonder whether something in Obama's political subconscious attracts him to people who have trouble paying their taxes. Someone dig up a copy of "Dreams of My Father" -- did a tax cheat figure prominently in Obama's childhood? Did he get yelled at by an accountant? Maybe the people who have expended so much time and energy chasing theories about Obama's birth certificate or Bill Ayers can shift gears to chase this instead.
In the meantime, the Associated Press says matter-of-factly that Kirk's tax problem "doesn't appear severe enough to jeopardize his confirmation." Max Baucus says he still supports Kirk, while Chuck Grassley is reserving judgment. The politics of all this will become clearer in the next day or so, but it's worth noting at this early hour that Kirk's tax mistakes -- like those of Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner -- are of the sort that really only afflict rich people. Most people don't receive honoraria for speaking engagements, nor do most people get season tickets to NBA games from their employers. It's not quite in the same league as Daschle's free car and driver, but it probably won't elicit a lot of "anyone could have made that mistake" sympathy, either.
8 a.m. ET: The weather outside is frightful, so it's the perfect morning to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and consider the prognosis for health care reform.
President Obama's official nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to be Health and Human Services Secretary today will give the president a full complement of Cabinet nominees for the first time since an hours-long stretch on Feb. 3, when Obama announced Judd Gregg was his pick for Commerce just before Tom Daschle withdrew from consideration for HHS.
What work awaits Sebelius? As Federal Eye points out, she faces tough managerial challenges at the FDA and administering Medicare. But the No. 1 priority for her -- and, arguably, for Obama's first term -- is comprehensive health care reform. The soon-to-be-former Kansas governor was unable to push through an increase in tobacco taxes to expand government health coverage back home, and now she will be working on an exponentially larger scale.
Sebelius and Obama also have to deal, as the New York Times points out, with a struggling economy that will make reforming health care even more difficult -- more unemployed means more uninsured, an increasing number of people are struggling to pay for the insurance they do have and "the financial condition of Medicare is deteriorating because of the recession." And aside from funding issues, Obama's reform plan includes other provisions that are sure to spark controversy, particularly when it comes to determining whether Americans should be forced to get insurance, and whether employers should be forced to provide it. Despite those obstacles, Peter Orszag predicted on "This Week" yesterday, "We're going to get health-care reform done this year."
First, Sebelius has to be confirmed to her post. There is no suggestion at this point that her nomination will face serious trouble -- assuming, as we are now hesitant to do, that she's always paid her taxes -- but her positions on abortion are likely to draw some scrutiny and complaints from Senate conservatives. As Jonathan Cohn notes, Sebelius' fights in Kansas over legislation putting restrictions on late-term abortions "have left some deep scars." (As an aside, you can expect Cohn's blog to get a lot more attention as the health care debate ramps up.)
Speaking of challenges, Iran is also getting an increased amount of attention as the Obama administration frets over its reported nuclear capability and wrestles with how to approach the enigmatic nation. As Michael Mullen put it Sunday on CNN, "Iran having nuclear weapons, I've believed for a long time, is a very very bad outcome -- for the region and for the world." (Mullen also probably raised some eyebrows in the White House when he said on Fox that he didn't know anything about the cost projections for Iraq contained in Obama's budget.) Mullen's civilian boss, Robert Gates, provided more palatable fodder for the president, saying on Meet the Press that Obama "is somewhat more analytical" than George W. Bush was "and he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue."
Beyond health care, Iran and Iraq, the most immediate challenge to the Obama administration today is ... snow. The White House announced this morning that Michelle Obama was canceling a planned "Read Across America" event at the Library of Congress "due to inclement weather." Remember that cancellation the next time the president makes a remark suggesting that Washington needs to take a lesson in toughness from Chicago.
March 2, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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