Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daschel Withdrawal Sets Back Health Care Reform

In many ways picking Tom Daschle to be HHS Secretary was the perfect choice. The former Senate majority leader knew Congress like the back of his hand, he wrote a book outlining not only what would be the Obama health plan but laid out the process to get there. He is an effective communicator on behalf of the administration on an issue that can easily become buried in controversial policy minutia. In short, a health care wonk that speaks English and was as good a legislator as they come.

Now what?

First, the administration has lost crucial health care reform momentum. In effect, Daschle has derailed one of his first priorities—moving quickly on health care reform before the opposition can get organized and while the administration still has big political capital.

There was no second choice for HHS Secretary in Obama’s mind—Daschle had this nailed well before the election. There is no obvious second choice period.

It is also possible that Obama's biggest health care reform challenge may not come from Republicans but from those on the far left of his own party. Their pushing on things like a public health plan to compete with the private sector could be a big hurdle. While Daschle supported some of these things, like the public plan and a cost board, in his book he was also a skilled and pragmatic legislator and could well have done a good job managing the President's left flank.

This will set the health care debate back months not weeks. It appears the economic crisis is deepening and there is talk of President Obama planning to come up with another giant bailout bill. That would take a lot of time and political capital.

Add the two together and we could be looking at the fall before this administration gets its health care effort back on track.

Yesterday's Post: The Daschle Appointment and "Limousine Liberals"


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