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Tax Problems Trip Up Administration Picks

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Tehran.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

In a moment we'll hear more about the outlook, now, for revamping health care. First, NPR's Don Gonyea reports on how yesterday's developments knocked the White House off balance.

DON GONYEA: The first piece of bad news for the White House came in the morning. Nancy Killefer, named to watchdog the performance and effectiveness of government programs, was pulling out over what's believed to be a relatively small problem with back taxes totaling less than $1,000.

INSKEEP: Daschle was stepping aside as a controversy grew over this week's revelations that the former Senate majority leader had paid more than $125,000 in back taxes. Mr. Obama was asked about it in a previously scheduled interview with ABC News. He said the decision was Daschle's.

INSKEEP: I think he made the assessment that it was going to be too much of a distraction. And the most important thing, from my perspective, is making sure that the American people understand we don't have two sets of rules here, that everybody has responsibilities.

GONYEA: That image clashed with the Obama administration's pledge to change the old Washington way of doing business, a point made in this old 1986 Daschle campaign ad. The ad, which surfaced on the Internet this week, shows Daschle at the wheels of a rusty, old Pontiac.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

U: But after 15 years and 238,000 miles, Tom Daschle still drives his old car to work every day. Maybe he's sentimental - or just cheap. Whatever the case, isn't it too bad the rest of Washington doesn't understand that a penny saved is a penny earned?

GONYEA: Losing two nominees in a single day, both due to delinquent taxes, was a major distraction for the administration. For better or worse, Mr. Obama had already been scheduled to do five back-to-back network TV interviews yesterday afternoon. Daschle became topic number one. The president didn't sugarcoat it. When asked by ABC's Charlie Gibson if it had been an embarrassing day, the president responded that it had.

INSKEEP: And so this was a self-induced injury that I'm angry about.

GONYEA: The mea culpa continued over on Fox News.

INSKEEP: I consider this a mistake on my part, and one that I intend to fix and correct.

GONYEA: And on CNN.

INSKEEP: I think I screwed up and I take responsibility for it.

GONYEA: Over at NBC.

INSKEEP: Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely, and I'm willing to take my lumps.

GONYEA: And on CBS.

INSKEEP: I was very eager to make sure that we can deliver on a commitment that I have to deliver health care for the American people. I think I messed up.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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