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Obama's Health Care Team: They Mean Business

Today the Obama transition office will announce its health care policy team. As expected, Tom Daschle will be leading it. According to sources closes to the transition, he'll be joined by a set of analysts including Lauren Aronson, Mark Childress, Dora Hughes, and Jeanne Lambrew. Harvard economist David Cutler will be serving as a part-time, outside advisor, reprising a role he served during the campaign. Among the other outside advisers are Jonathan Blum, Rahul Rajkumar, Terrell McSweeny, and Jenny Backus.

It's an interesting blend of policy intellectuals and veteran strategists, including a pair of M.D.'s. Hughes, whose resume includes stints both in the Senate and at the Commonwealth Fund, is board-certified in internal medicine; Rajkumar, who established himself as one of Obama's more eloquent spokespersons during the campaign, is currently a resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The team is heavy on people who know a thing or two about moving plans through Congress. Take Aronson. Her most recent job was in Rahm Emanuel's office. There, she advised him on floor strategy; she also was a liason to other members and outside stakeholders. Before that, she worked for Chris Jennings, a former Clinton staffer who is one of the best known health care advisers in town. So, like Daschle's appointment, the naming of this team suggests that Obama is serious about pursuing health care reform.

Here's one interesting storyline to watch, for those of you who care about substance: The Obama health plan includes a substantial up-front investment in better information technology. Cutler has long argued that the resulting efficiencies could save substantial sums of money in the long term. But many experts have been skeptical of this claim--not least among them, incoming Budget Director Peter Orszag.

Cutler and Orszag share the same goals; both are absolutely committed to health care reform. But they don't agree about how to read the data. So I'm sure they'll go a few rounds on that.

Of course, that's precisely how an administration should make policy: By putting the best minds in the same room and letting the sparks fly.

--Jonathan Cohn