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Obama "absolutely" supports his choice for health secretary
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08:17, February 03, 2009

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U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that he still supported his health secretary choice, who has been criticized for cheating on tax payments.

Asked if he still backs Tom Daschle, a former senator, in the Oval Office, Obama replied "absolutely."

Obama's response came after reports emerged on Friday that Daschle, nominated as secretary of health and human services and White House health policy czar, had paid more than 120,000 U.S. dollars in back taxes for failing to report services from a wealthy friend.

According to the reports, Daschle was forced to pay back his tax returns on Jan. 2 during Obama team's vetting process, in which he was found to have been provided with chauffeur service by Leo Hindery, founder of private equity firm InterMedia Advisors.

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing about his confirmation for Secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2009.

Daschle apologized on Monday in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, which will decide on his nomination, saying that he was "deeply embarrassed and disappointed" about his failure to pay taxes.

Barack Obama (L) introduces former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (R) as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services during a news conference in Chicago, December 11, 2008.

"I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns," said Daschle. "I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them."

He explained in the letter how he failed to pay taxes on additional income for consulting work, the use of a car service and paperwork to support claims for charitable contributions.

Apart from the tax issue, Daschle's nomination was also haunted by his financial disclosure filed about a week ago, showing he made more than 200,000 dollars in the past two years by speaking to the health care industry that he is tasked to reform.

However, Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for Daschle, said that his speech earning from health care interests does not constitute a conflict for the health care reform.

According to a survey report released on Monday by the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board, only 9 percent of 1,005 respondents said they felt OK with cheating on taxes, while 89 percent said it was never OK.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was confirmed by the Senate last week, was also caught not paying enough tax, but in a smaller scale.


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