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Daschle Is Obama's Pick to Lead HHS

Former Sen. Daschle Expected to Be the Nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 21, 2008 -- By selecting former Sen. Tom Daschle, D, S.D., to head the Department of Health and Human Services, President-elect Barack Obama has found a point person for sweeping health care reform who shares his bipartisan approach to politics. 

Obama has yet to formally announce the appointment, but major news outlets -- based on comments from Democratic party insiders -- report that the president-elect has offered the cabinet post to the 60-year-old Daschle, and that he accepted it. The Senate must confirm the appointment. 

Since leaving the Senate after losing to Republican challenger John Thune in 2004, Daschle has burnished both his health care and bipartisan credentials. He and three other former Senate majority leaders -- Republicans Bob Dole and Howard Baker and Democrat George Mitchell -- formed the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2007 to tackle health care reform and other social issues. Daschle also joined the law and lobbying firm of Alston & Bird as a special policy advisor, with health care as one of his strong suits. That's where his old rival Bob Dole also works on health care issues as a special counsel.

In addition to serving as HHS secretary, Daschle will head the Obama administration's policy-making group on health care. His goal will be turning Obama's health care campaign promises into a detailed legislative blueprint.

Clues on what Daschle might want to achieve in his two new roles can be gleaned from a book that he co-authored titled Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis. In the book, published earlier this year, Daschle proposes creating a national agency that would oversee the health care system in the same way the Federal Reserve oversees the country's financial system.

While speculation brews about Daschle's effect on the massive health care sector, Obama already has been criticized for choosing a cabinet member with an arguable conflict of interest, something Obama promised not to do. Daschle not only works for a firm that represents health care companies (although he is not a registered lobbyist), he also serves on the board of the Mayo Clinic. Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said in a statement: "For voters hoping to see new faces and fewer lobbyist connections in government, Daschle's nomination will be another disappointment."

Proponents of making health care more accessible and affordable, however, are applauding Obama's pick. "The appointment of Senator Daschle as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is the best news possible for those who want to achieve meaningful health care reform," said Families USA executive director Ron Pollack in a statement posted on the group's web site. "Senator Daschle has a deep commitment to securing high-quality, affordable health care for everyone in our nation. His new leadership position confirms that the incoming Obama Administration has made health care reform a top and early priority for action in 2009."

 

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