President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday named former Sen. Tom Daschle to lead the nation's Department of Health and Human Services.
Daschle, D-S.D., is one of Obama's first Cabinet picks. If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in guiding critical, high-profile federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The massive job includes oversight of a department budget that exceeded $707 billion for fiscal year 2008.
Daschle was Senate majority leader under President Clinton. Even before Obama was elected, he had reportedly told confidantes he was most interested in a position at HHS because he thought health care would be one of the most important issues facing the new administration.
His book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis," was published in February this year.
"By almost any measure, the situation is grim," he wrote in his book. "We like to boast that we have the highest standard of living in the world, and yet, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we are the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee necessary health care to all of its citizens. It is stunning and shameful."
Health care group Families USA Wednesday was quick to react to Obama's selection.
"The appointment of Sen. Daschle as secretary of the Health and Human Services Department 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.
The RNC, however, took a different stance.
"Barack Obama is filling his administration with long-time Washington insiders," said RNC spokesman Alex Conant. "Since losing his Senate seat, Tom Daschle has worked for a major lobbying firm. For voters hoping to see new faces and fewer lobbyist connections in government, Daschle's nomination will be another disappointment."
Daschle will have his work cut out for him, with enormous challenges facing the agencies under HHS' purview. Top priorities awaiting the next secretary of Health and Human Services include:
Access to Health Care
President-elect Obama said one of his top priorities will be giving everyone access to affordable health care. It's expected to be one of the first orders of business and an aggressive goal -- one that eluded President Clinton. Daschle will lead that charge.
Obama advisers already are working with key members of Congress to hash out the plan for universal coverage. In addition to running the agency that will implement whatever plan comes out of Congress, Daschle also has been named to lead Obama's team that will help create that plan.
At a bipartisan health care strategy meeting today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate's Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, said he thought a health care bill would be one of the first bills considered after Congress reconvenes in January.