Strong words from President-elect Barack Obama at yesterday’s press conference introducing Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. Well, I ask a different question — I ask how we can afford not to….If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge.
Obama also promised to address health care “this year,” implying that he will spend political capital to get a plan through Congress in 2009.
Addressing our health care challenges will not only mean healthier and longer lives for millions it will also make American companies more competitive, address the cause of half of all of our personal bankruptcies and foreclosures and help pull our economy out of its current tailspin.
Obama also named Jeanne Lambrew as Daschle’s deputy. Ezra Klein is very pleased with that pick:
Lambrew is an incredibly talented and knowledgeable health wonk, and her involvement should cheer liberals. Unlike during the campaign, when Obama’s health care team seemed heavy on relatively cautious academics, Lambrew has long White House and executive branch experience, and comes to health care as a crusade as much as a topic of study. As Jon Cohn says, the importance of her presence “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.”
For more from Lambrew, check out her congressional testimony from late October, where she argued that “the short-run economic crisis has health policy causes and effects-and arguably the most serious long-run economic challenge is our broken health care system.” That was almost exactly the message Obama delivered today. And it’s the message that will be heard in the White House, and translated into a political strategy by Tom Daschle.
In this article for The American Prospect, Klein compares Obama’s team of “health care heavyweights” to Bill Clinton’s disastrous strategy for pushing health care reform in 1993 and 1994.
The major battle will be making sure there is some public insurance plan Americans can opt into, so that private insurers will need to cover health care in order to compete for customers.