Save the Solis Nomination

Hilda Solis is not a "toxic asset" in the Obama administration's personnel portfolio.

In fact, the small-business tax troubles
of the California congresswoman's husband--which Republican partisans,
nervous-nelly Democrats and media elites who cannot see the forest for
the trees imagine as a Cabinet disqualifier--confirm that Solis has
precisely the real-world experience that is going to be required in a
White House that seeks to tip balance away from Wall Street and toward
Main Street.

Republican senators are holding up President Obama's nomination of
Solis to serve as his Secretary of Labor because they imagine they can
score politics points by attacking her as a "tax cheat" and potentially
blocking another Democratic Cabinet pick.

Last week's withdrawal of Tom Daschle as the president's nominee to
serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, which came after it
was revealed that the former Senate majority leader had failed to pay
more than $140,000 in taxes (probably a lot more), was a blow to the
new president's image as a change agent. And it built on the narrative
being developed by Republicans that Obama is surrounded by
hustlers--including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and another
withdrawn nominee, Nancy Killefer, who had been slated to serve in the
newly created position of Chief Performance Officer--who have no qualms
about raising taxes because they don't pay them.

But senators who would compare the tax troubles of the Solis family
with accounting gimmicks of high fliers like Daschle or Geithner are
creating a false construct that reveals everything about their own
myopic understanding of the current economic crisis--and their
unsettling inability to distinguish the abuses of Wall Street from the
challenges of Main Street.

No one is going to get very far arguing that Daschle or Geithner are
anything but what the average American sees: powerful insiders, with
legions of accountants and tax lawyers, who by just about every
evidence were gaming the system in order to pad their personal bank

The tax bills Daschle and Geithner were avoiding added up to more than
tens of millions of American families earn in a year. These men move in
worlds far removed from the grassroots experience of the citizens they
purport to serve.

With Solis, it's the opposite. The daughter of immigrants from
Nicaragua and Mexico who was the first member of her family to go to
college (and got in as part of a program to aid low-income students),
and when she got out she went to work helping disadvantaged kids finish
high school and get into community colleges. As a state legislator and
a member of the US House of Representatives, Solis has represented
working-class neighborhoods and immersed herself in the sort of
immigration, labor and small business issues that mark her as a
uniquely well-qualified nominee for Labor Secretary. She has, as well,
remained far more linked than most of Obama's Cabinet picks to people
who get their hands dirty working - including her husband.

Where Daschle was in trouble for failing to pay taxes on the estimated
value of two years of luxury car services that were equivalent to
income totaling $255,256, Solis's husband runs Sam's Foreign and
Domestic Auto Center, a car-repair shop in the anything-but-elite
community of Irwindale, California--home of several rock quarries and
the Irwindale Speedway.

Sam Sayyad owned Los Angeles County $6,468 in back taxes, which he
paid up when the issue of his liens arose last week. According to
Anthony Yakimowich, the chief deputy treasurer and tax collector for
the county, there was no indication that Sayyad was trying to avoid
paying taxes. As Yakimowich told the Los Angeles Times,
small businesses often have honest disputes with the county over taxes
and--especially these days--often experience financial difficulties
that can lead to delays in payments.

In other words, Sayyad's experience is like that of a lot of
small-business owners in a country where the good breaks invariably go
to large corporations, just as the hard knocks go to the little guys
and gals who try to compete with them. Sayyad fell a little behind in
paying his taxes, and that was wrong. But to compare a few thousand
dollars in tax liens owed by a fellow who fixes broken-down cars in
Irwindale with a few hundred thousand dollars in avoided taxes owed by
a former senator who cruises around Washington in the back seat of a
limousine is worse than absurd. It represents a complete loss of
perspective by those who engage in political gamesmanship of the
creepiest sort.

Hilda Solis has had experiences that are very different from most of
the people with whom she would serve in Barack Obama's Cabinet. But her
experiences are not so very different from those of working Americans,
including the small business owners who struggle to get by on main
streets in cities and towns across this country--communities that look
and feel a lot more like Irwindale than Washington. That is what makes
Hilda Solis such an attractive nominee.

In fact, far from disqualifying Solis, the minor tax troubles
related to her husband's small business confirm the congresswoman as a
more attractive nominee than most of those advanced by Obama. Those
members of the Senate who fail to recognize this fact--and their amen
corner in the media--are merely confirming the extent to which they are
dramatically disconnected with the experience of working Americans.

Barack Obama made the right pick when he chose Hilda Solis to serve
as his Secretary of Labor. The president should not be dissuaded by the
silly spin that would equate the circumstances of a Tom Daschle with
those of Hilda Solis. Obama and his allies in the Senate need to inject
a measure of perspective--along with realism--into the Washington
discourse by demanding that this worthy nominee be confirmed before the
week is done.

To take action on this issue, visit Peter Rothberg's recent piece: Hilda Solis Under Fire.

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