President Obama has been plagued by problems filling his cabinet, ranging from state investigations, failure to pay taxes and changes of heart by nominees. On Monday he announced that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius would be his choice to head Health and Human Services after his first choice former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his name after it was discovered that he had failed to pay some back taxes.
Now another problem with back taxes is rearing its head with the nomination of Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as the U.S. Trade Representative. It appears Kirk failed to report as income speaking fees he received but donated to his alma mater, Austin College. Kirk has agreed to pay back taxes of nearly $10,000 and according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs it should have no impact on Kirk's nomination.
"He has to pay $9,000. Why? Because he was basically overly generous in giving away speaking honoraria to create scholarships in order for people to go to college," said Gibbs. "Ron Kirk is going to be not only the next trade representative for the United States but a darn good one."
The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Kirk this Thursday, but it has been pushed back until next week. However, according to the panel the move was made because it conflicted with the White House health summit and not because of the tax issue.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has expressed support for the former Dallas mayor and said he intended to move quickly on the nomination.
"Mayor Kirk is the right person for this job, and I will work to move his nomination quickly," said Baucus. "I am confident he can successfully restore the confidence of Congress and the American people in a balanced international trade agenda."
Kirk is nonetheless likely to get a grilling from both sides of the aisle on trade matters with nations from China to Colombia. He can expect the agriculture sector, which is heavily represented on Finance, to weigh in on issues ranging from the languishing Doha Round of multilateral trade talks to Obama's budget proposal to slash farm subsidies.