Unpaid Taxes Are Unlikely To Derail Defense Pick

ONLY days after being hailed as the savior of President Clinton's Cabinet, Bobby Ray Inman has suddenly become another classic Washington figure: the embattled nominee. But few prominent political figures have yet directly criticized Mr. Inman over the revelation that he did not pay Social Security taxes for a part-time maid.

The White House clearly hopes that it can address these issues quickly. But if a debate develops, Inman's prospects may quickly erode. In a Dec. 20 statement, administration spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said: ``Admiral Inman fully disclosed this situation and made clear his intent to come into compliance'' by paying any necessary taxes and penalties.

White House officials have reportedly already contacted key senators, such as Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, and received assurances that they still fully support Inman's nomination.

The relatively conservative Senator Nunn, who will chair Inman's confirmation hearings, may assume that any other nominee for the defense post will be more liberal than the former Navy admiral. And Republicans may have no reason to raise a furor over a man who admittedly voted for Bush.

Opposition, however, could come from two sources: talk radio hosts, who stirred listeners to anger over the failure of Attorney General nominee Zoe Baird to pay Social Security taxes for illegal domestics, and Democratic liberals, who both oppose Inman's politics and argue that male Cabinet nominees are scrutinized less closely than female nominees. Liberals point out that federal judge Kimba Wood's nomination for the Justice post foundered over the tax issue, while there was little fallout when Commerce Secretary Ron Brown disclosed a similar problem after taking office.

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