Friday, July 21, 2006

Endangered nomination

The post of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy has been vacant for a very long time, and finally the Bush Administration has nominated someone: Eric Solomon, who has been a high-ranking Treasury tax official since the Clinton Administration. I lauded this nomination in an earlier post. Solomon is nonpartisan and, more importantly, one of the really good people in government (a dying breed in these highly political days).

Senator Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has announced that he intends to block the nomination until the Bush Administration develops a plan to narrow the $290 billion tax gap (i.e., the estimate of annual taxes that are legally due but not paid). Baucus defends this on the ground that the issue is important, although he agrees that Solomon is "a good public servant and certainly a tax expert."

This strikes me as a really bad idea on Baucus's part, notwithstanding that it would be nice to lower the tax gap. (By the way, while some of the barriers to doing so are political - politicians don't want to turn loose the IRS on voters and campaign contributors - this may to some extent be a bipartisan problem although the Republicans surely do much more to fan anti-tax sentiment.)

The Treasury has been falling apart before our eyes as good public servants leave because they realize they are not being allowed to do tax policy - their motivation for accepting salaries that are below what they could get in the public sector. The Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy can do a lot of good, and Solomon in particular surely would, even though the Treasury has lost so much of its influence. Moreover, Solomon really deserves to be confirmed. Making life hard (or harder) for good public servants is not really what we need these days. (By the way, he is an acquaintance whom I have met a few times and had minor dealings with professionally, but not someone I know well enough to count as a friend. There is no unstated agenda here.)

I gather that a group of New York tax lawyers are circulating a petition in support of Solomon's nomination and urging that Baucus retract his opposition. If law professors or other academics get into the act, I would certainly sign. Eric Solomon should be confirmed as promptly and painlessly as possible.

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