Sebelius Confirmation Appears Safe

Posted April 1, 2009 at 11:34am

Revelations that Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius misfiled close to $8,000 in taxes do not appear to have derailed the Kansas Democratic governor’s confirmation.

“I don’t think it’s fatal to her,— said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the nomination.

Sebelius sent a letter to the Finance Committee on Tuesday detailing a review of her 2005, 2006 and 2007 tax returns by a certified public accountant. In the letter, she defended the findings as minor, unintentional errors that were immediately corrected through amended returns.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) immediately came out with a statement of support of Sebelius, and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also has said the tax issue would likely not be enough for him to withhold support for her nomination.

“I think the tax policy would have less on how I’m going to vote on her than other things that might come out of the hearing,— Grassley said in a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday. “We wouldn’t be having this hearing if we didn’t think the tax thing was pretty well taken care of.—

Sebelius was President Barack Obama’s second pick to lead HHS after former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination in the face of criticism over mispayment of his taxes. Daschle paid more than $100,000 in back taxes shortly after being named to the post, but the revelation sent his nomination reeling and ultimately forced him to step aside.

Sebelius went before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday and will go before the Finance Committee on Thursday.

Grassley also noted that the Finance panel has considered a handful of nominees this year whose tax records became liabilities, including Daschle, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

While Daschle’s tax flap forced him to withdraw, Kirk and Sebelius’ tax problems are much more minor, Grassley said.

“I think since Daschle, they’ve got that vetting process in a little better shape,— the Iowa Republican said.