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Daschle At Hhs = Good News For Health Reform

So much health care news, so little time to blog. But let me weigh in on the news, via, CNN, that Tom Daschle will be Secretary of Health and Human Services. He will also serve as the White House point person on health care reform.

This is a perfect role for Daschle. Although he was always been interested in health care, in the last few years he's become a true wonk on the subject, publishing a book called Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis. It urges precisely the sorts of reforms President-Elect Obama and his congressional allies are promoting right now. 

Daschle is particularly interested in creating a "federal health board"--an independent govenrment-chartered body, structured like the Federal Reserve, that would both help set up the new system and then play a role in running it. One of its major goals would be to set basic coverage guidelines, to weed out payments for wasteful or unnecessary care. It's a complicated and politically dangerous notoin, but one that's necessary if we ever want to improve health care quality and get costs on control. (For more on the concept, and how to avoid its political pitfalls, see Ezra Klein's interview with Daschle from a few months ago.) 

Daschle has also thought long and hard about the failures of the 1994 reform effort--and how to avoid them. He was actually the first person I heard mention the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process this time around. (Under reconciliation rules, it takes only 50 votes to pass something, since there are no filibusters.) He did it during an appearance at the Chicago Tribune/Printer's Row Book Fair, back in June, during a session I moderated.

Like Senator Max Baucus, who has also raised this possibility, Daschle was careful to say that reconciliation should be a fallback option--something to use only if bipartisan progress became impossible because Republicans were reprising their role from 1994 and refusing to compromise. But he also noted that it was an option Democrats had to keep on the table, in order to make cooperation more likely.

Dasche has, to my knowledge, always had open-minded views about how quickly to push health care reform. When I've spoken to him in the past, he's suggested it would depend on the political environment. But given Barack Obama's substantial victory and the numbers in the Senate (58 Democrats and counting) I imagine that Daschle, like incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, will be inclined to "throw long and deep."

Update: There's a video of that Chicago book fair session here. It's the entire afternoon, via C-Span; the Daschle session is the last one and begins at around the 6:00:00 mark.In addition to speaking about reconciliation, Daschle also discusses his ideas about a Federal Health Board.

Update 2: Karen Tumulty at Time has a nice write-up on Daschle, covering--among other things--an early conversation he had with Obama.

--Jonathan Cohn