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Overnights Are Awkwardly Inexplicable

It’s the sleep-away camp that goes beyond the definition of simple mistake.

The Senate Finance Committee may or may not take Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner’s word that his failure to pay thousands in past Social Security taxes was a mere oversight that shouldn’t stop his confirmation from going through. It’s awfully hard, though, to explain how someone who is supposed to have such financial acumen managed to overlook explicit instructions from the International Monetary Fund, his employer during the period the lapses occurred, to pay. An IMF tax handbook Geithner received describes on multiple pages the Social Security obligations and how its American staff living abroad is expected to meet them, according to a copy released by the committee.

It may be morally harder to explain Geithner’s attempt to claim money spent on his children’s sleep-away camps as a child-care expense. The amount involved is a pittance compared with the larger tab for the back Social Security taxes.
It’s the audacity that’s the problem.

Millions of families do without decent child-care for their children while they’re at work. Millions send their kids to untrained and unlicensed daycare providers. Some put older siblings -- kids who are ten or twelve, sometimes younger -- in charge of younger brothers and sisters. The child-care tax credit is a small and hardly adequate way in which a limited portion of expenses can be recouped, but only if they’re incurred when parents are working or looking for work.

Sleep-away camp sure doesn’t count. It’s a luxury for affluent kids, not a necessity the taxpayers subsidize. Like John Edwards’s expensive haircut and Sarah Palin’s campaign-financed wardrobe, this one reeks of something worse than sloppiness. It’s that sense of entitlement we’ve seen all too often.

By Marie Cocco  | January 14, 2009; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Cocco  | Tags:  Marie Cocco  
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Next: Did Geithner Make an Honest Mistake?


Cocco, I have to disagree with you about the sleepover camp being inappropriate for a childcare deduction. My husband and I both work full time and we have one son. What to do with him all summer is no joke to do well. We each take a weeks vacation seperately and one together, that gets us through three weeks, our son goes to YES! sleepover camp for two weeks and to a day camp for two weeks and except for the odd week here or there, we have made it. Is it a luxury, I guess. I guess we could leave our 11, then 12, then 13 year old son home alone surfing the net, hanging out downtown, but it doesn't seem safe or wise. Neither does one camp after another, I have always believed summer for kids should include kick back lazy days not camp schedules, so...we all do the best we can, have pity on the overnight camp as daycare strategy. Zen

Posted by: Vgeiger | January 14, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Palin's clothes again? Please.

She wasn't keeping the clothes. The clothes were campaign marketing expenses designed to make her look more vice-presidential.

Posted by: wapo9 | January 14, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Some reporters sense that somewhere in the world there are people who are happy. Their job is to make sure it never happens again.

Posted by: gary4books | January 14, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm a parent of 2, my wife and I work full-time. It is a heck of a challenge for summer when our children are out of school. Yet I would NEVER claim sleepaway camp as a child care deduction because that is clearly improper/illegal. We do claim the child care expense tax credit and we see that that requires SSN of the provider, etc. It would be a NICE DREAM to get sleepaway subsidized by the taxpayers - but until it is, it is wrong to try to claim it. Especially by a rich guy.

Posted by: ClarkKent1 | January 14, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Coco is a bitter, misandrist, bomb-thrower because we voters REJECTED her friend Clinton's bid for the presidency. Ms. Cocco's own integrity via-vis this article is questionable.

Nobody in high office is lilly-white, unfortunately. The difference between those we should confirm, and those we should reject is their willingness to be open, transparent, stand up for responsibility, and correct a conflict situation of their own making with humility and forthrightness.

Tim Geithner’s actions in light of the revelations have been appropriate and he should be confirmed.

...Oh yeah almost forgot... Sleep-over camp is a legit deduction. In a democracy, Ms. Cocco, the law applies evenly to all regardless of one's income. I know you hate that concept, but that's why we're free.

With that in mind since you're so wealthy yourself, why don't you make an extra donation towards retiring our national debt this week? No? Why am I not suprised?

Posted by: onestring | January 14, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Cocco,
Please take this petty, petty nonsense out of town. We have nation-threatening issues before us, and you want us to put those on hold to---what? Satisfy your need to get a column out today?? Shame on your editors, if that's the case.
I don't want to waste any more time on this, or on you. Good luck having a life.

Posted by: rdepontb1 | January 14, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I think some of these commenters have lost their minds. Of course deducting sleep over camp costs is illegal and immoral. This clown has a sense of entitlement and arrogance that is breathtaking.

His conversion to honesty just prior to his appointment is disgraceful. This is not a Clinton vs. Obama vs. Bush issue. This is right vs. wrong. When Bush cronies pulled the same stunt we rightly derided them. We can't back off now.

Posted by: wj03412000 | January 14, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

"She wasn't keeping the clothes. "

Yeah she did.

"The clothes were campaign marketing expenses designed to make her look more vice-presidential."

Because she didn't have the common sense to do it herself? Her salary as gov was pretty hefty. And husband Turd works. C'mon... she was slopping it up at the public trough.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | January 14, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

"Some reporters sense that somewhere in the world there are people who are happy. Their job is to make sure it never happens again.

Posted by: gary4books | January 14, 2009 5:38 PM "

Well, Cocco, the people are not interested in hearing anything that may make them think or see the writing on the wall.

Let them continue in the sleep of the innocents, or of the ignorants.

Posted by: cintronlourdes | January 14, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Geithner's accountant specifically told him that those deductions for the sleepovers were not allowed. But that didn't seem to bother Geithner at all. He did nothing about filing an amended return until several years later when the Obama team asked about them.

Had he not been selected for a cabinet office, he planned to keep the ill-gotten gains of his deliberate deceit. For any one of the rest of us ordinary folks, that's called theft. But for the well-heeled it's just an innocent, trivial oversight.

Posted by: infuse | January 14, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Appearance of impropriety. Flaunting the tax lause he will oversee. so on and so on.

I think this requires deliberative consideration by the Senate at confirmation. I think it may be wise to wait for the other shoe to fall on this one.

Posted by: roboturkey | January 14, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

This article and the commentary are all very strange. Did anyone, including the author, know that sleep away camps were invalid expenses as opposed to day camps prior to today? Publication 503 example 2 in the multipage Care of a Qualifying Person section mentions the camp over night distinctions after a series of contradictory allowed exceptions, but I don't see how that raises to a devastating indictment. Deducting expenses for a day soccer camp (allowed) as opposed to an overnight soccer camp (not allowed) is now the metric by which we judge integrity?

This article would have been more informative if it simply pointed out the overcomplexity of our tax code. We should also note that the lions share of the save the children/save small business/buy everyone a house type benefits go to the wealthy, not the average joe.

Posted by: Dremit97 | January 14, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh please DO tell us whatever happened to Palin's clothes!

Did the 5 year old get to keep the Louis Vuitton bag?

Is some drag queen on Hollywood Blvd wearing her high-dollar duds, smoking a cigarrette while saying "hoo-aw-key mom, Yoo betcha!".

Please do tell!

Posted by: Heerman532 | January 14, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Dremit97 is right. I do agree that a rich many who has an accountant do his taxes has no excuse. The tax code has too many of these stupid rules that don't even make sense. My daughter goes to a one-week Girl Scout sleepaway camp for $225 (and yes, it is child care, because I am working), and no, I can not count it as an expense. Her daycamps all cost considerably more, but I am allowed to use my tax-sheltered dependent care account for those. Sillier yet, the ritzy private schools all offer day camps that are in the stratosphere in terms of $500/week, and are most definitely a luxury, but those are also 'allowed expenses'.
So yes, the real story is that the damn tax code is ridiculously complicated and the reasoning behind the technicalities is absurd. If this guy knowingly cheated, then he is scum, but I can easily see how other people could inadvertently make a mistake.

Posted by: 1Reader | January 14, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

This is what the right whines about after running this nation into the ground?

If you can't crash big, whine?

If this is all it has to offer, it will be a long time before I vote the right side of the aisle.

Posted by: colonelpanic | January 14, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

So, your saying that he lacks moral authority (and based on the stridency of this article thinks he should be shunned) because he deducted sleep away camps on his taxes as a childcare expense? Well, pass me the pitchforks and stones, let's go hunt down this unpatriotic traitor. Seriously Cocco, grow up.

And while you're still up there on your own moral high horse about what "affluent" people spend on luxuries, I guess you forgot to mention that affluent people pay a great deal in taxes, and these taxes are redistributed and used to pay for that child-care tax credit that you cited in this article. Give me a freakin' break.

Posted by: inspired3 | January 14, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

Completely agree. Everyone who works for treaty organizations like IMF, World Bank etc, knows they are responsible for their own payroll taxes.

This is the man who would be in charge of the IRS?

Posted by: cambridge-persistence | January 14, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

com on guys. Geith has the nerve to not pay obvious taxes for 4 years and yr surprised he pulls the "sleep" away camp kid deduction ? he's very consistent. Ethically challenged , he will fit in well in Washington. Charlie Rangel now has a lunch buddy, wonder which guy plays dumb better ?? Change u can believe in !

Posted by: snapplecat07 | January 14, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Cocco is the fanatic who accused anyone who supported Barack Obama in the primaries of being a sexist on the deranged theory that if a female candidate is running it is inherently sexist not to give her knee-jerk support no matter how much you disagree with her positions, including her vote for the Iraq war.

Posted by: uh_huhh | January 15, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Cocco is absolutely right. The care and attention to detail it took it come up with overnight camp as a childcare expense would make you think it would occur to him that he might not want to overlook paying his taxes.

Afterall, he repeatedly signed documents saying he would. Was he sent repeated reminders on declaring overnight camping trips as a child care expense? I think not.

Really people! You are barking at the wrong reporter!

Posted by: CJ2161 | January 15, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget that Geithner was traveling all around the world doing what is basically a public service. If he needed help with his kid, then he deserves it.

This is just political posturing.

Posted by: zosima | January 16, 2009 2:28 AM | Report abuse

Well, they should eat cake. Right?

Posted by: gary4books | January 16, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

re wj03412000

"Of course deducting sleep over camp costs is illegal and immoral. This clown has a sense of entitlement and arrogance that is breathtaking.

His conversion to honesty just prior to his appointment is disgraceful. This is not a Clinton vs. Obama vs. Bush issue. This is right vs. wrong. When Bush cronies pulled the same stunt we rightly derided them. We can't back off now."

AMEN! Geithner (and that arrogant sense of entitlement and superiority) are some of the reasons we're in this mess.


Posted by: flacan | January 16, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I think Geithner is channeling the tax ethics of the business community. Is the deduction questionable? Take the chance, push to the limit. If you get caught, pay the tax and fine. If not, you're ahead of the game!

And that's what it is to them - a game of what you can get away with. When was the last time you heard of a criminal prosecution over corporate income tax evasion? You see, that's the way the IRS treats it too. And with Bush cutting the size of the enforcement division, the odds of winning the game went up.

Posted by: j2hess | January 16, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

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