Homer Simpson’s Washington

D.C. connections are the cause of Daschle’s problems. Can they be the solution?

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As another Cabinet appointee runs afoul of the “pay your taxes” rule, Team Obama is playing defense as it strives to project an image of a squeaky clean White House. Obama’s bipartisan hopes are renewed as the stimulus package moves to the Senate, but meanwhile the administration is promising more oversight of the remaining half of the $700 billion TARP fund. Toss in the conclusion of the Middle East envoy’s first visit to the region, and the Change-o-meter starts the week at 15.

Late Friday, news broke that Tom Daschle, Obama’s nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department, had failed to pay $128,000 in taxes on unreported income. (He paid the bill, plus interest, early last month.) Since then, the narrative has focused on the former Senate leader’s deep Washington connections, both as the genesis of this problem—as the New York Times details today—and as the possible antidote, as the Washington Post suggested yesterday. (To pinch from Homer Simpson: Washington, the cause of—and solution to—all of life’s problems.) This sounds a lot like the Washington Obama campaigned against, particularly coming on the heels of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s tax troubles and the early brouhaha over Obama’s circumvention of his own ethics law to allow a former Raytheon lobbyist to serve as deputy secretary of defense. The Senate finance committee is meeting today to discuss Daschle’s case. For now, that’s zero points for change.

Rep. Barney Frank, chair of the House financial services committee, said over the weekend that the Obama administration is likely to attach more strings to the second half of the TARP money, forcing banks that receive government funds to issue more loans. While the Change-o-Meter will await more detailed proposals for any major shift, Frank’s promise is good enough for a nudge on the meter.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, now the administration’s envoy to the Middle East, met with the king of Saudi Arabia yesterday in the last stop of his tour of the region, which included visits with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The trip was mostly uneventful, but it is a small step in the direction of the restored diplomacy that Obama promised on the stump.

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