Daschle Withdraws as HHS Nominee

Move Will Likely Affect Speed of Healthcare Reform

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Obama announces the nomination of Tom Daschle as health and human services secretary in December 2008. (Source: changedotgov)

Tom Daschle withdrew Tuesday as President Barack Obama’s nominee for health and human services secretary amid controversy that he failed to fully pay his taxes from 2005 through 2007.  Last month, Daschle paid $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest.

The resignation of the former Senate majority leader will likely affect the speed with which Obama will be able to implement his proposed healthcare reform.

A 26-year congressional veteran, the South Dakota politician was expected to apply his passion for healthcare reform as well as his relationships and knowledge of the Senate to gain support for Obama’s ambitious programs. Daschle was a close adviser to Obama throughout the presidential campaign. He is the author of a book on proposals to improve healthcare.

After losing re-election to the Senate in 2004, Daschle became a public policy adviser at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird, advising clients on issues including healthcare, financial services and taxes and trade.

Nancy Killefer, who was tapped for chief performance officer, also withdrew her nomination. She also faced questions about delinquent tax payments.

“I recognize that your agenda and the duties facing your Chief Performance Officer are urgentm,” wrote Killefer in her letter to Obama. “I have also come to realize in the current environment that my personal tax issue of D.C. Unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of distraction and delay those duties must avoid. Because of this I must reluctantly ask you to withdraw my name from consideration.”

Just yesterday, Obama, said he “absolutely” stood by Daschle. But today Obama said that he was accepting Daschle’s resignation “with sadness and regret” and that “We must move forward.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the nominees stepped down so as not to be a distraction to Obama’s agenda. During a press conference, Gibbs was asked if the White House had sought Daschle’s withdrawal, but he said that it was Daschle himself who decided to end the nomination process.

The Department of Health and Human Services is the government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. HHS includes more than 300 programs. In addition, HHS represents almost a quarter of all federal outlays, and it administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined. Its Medicare program is the nation’s largest health insurer, handling more than one billion claims per year. Medicare and Medicaid together provide health care insurance for one in four Americans.

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