At the Chicago press conference, Obama just gave the clearest signal yet that he intends to make health care reform a top priority.
After running through the litany of familiar problems--rising costs, faltering coverage, poor quality--he vowed to tackle the problem "this year and in this administration." Afterwards, he confronted head-on the argument that the rough economy makes this a poor time to try health care reform. He noted that economic insecurity and our health care crisis our inextricably linked. "If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must deal with our health care challenges."
Once Obama was done speaking, Tom Daschle--now the official appointee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services--took his turn. And his remarks were equally impressive. Calling health care "our largest domestic policy challnege," he said that "Our growing costs are unsustainble and the plight of the uninsured is unconsionable." That may sound like boilerplate, but many health care experts think it's more important to tackle costs before coverage. Daschle's comments are a clear signal he takes both challenges seriously (and, undoubtedly, understands the way they are related.)
One more note: I mentioned briefly, below, the significance of Jeanne Lambrew's appointment. But it goes beyond the fact that she happens to know a heck of a lot about health care. She, too, has a strong commitment to what you might call the "social justice" side of the debate: Making sure everyobdy has insurance and, more important, good insurance. She also focuses heavily on issues like prevention and public health--which get less attention than simply extending insurance to everybody but may, in the long run, be more important when it comes to actually making all Americans healthy.
More later today, after everybody else is done dissecting Obama's comments on the Blagojevich scandal.
Update: In response to the final question, the only one on health care, he said "the time is now to solve this problem. I met too many families in this campaing, even before the economic downturn, who were desperate." He then mentioned the role health care costs played in personal bankruptcies and employer struggles, and reiterated that "this has to be intimiately woven into our economic recovery program. It's not something we can put off because we're in an emergency. This is part of the emergency. We want ot make sure the strategy reflects that truth."