After Daschle’s Demise

February 8th, 2009 at 10:00 pm | 3 Comments |

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Ceci Connolly, pharm blogging at, rx describes “proponents of overhauling America’s heath care system” as being “shocked” when Mr. Daschle withdrew his name from nomination.

Reading the The New Republic Online, that would seem to be an understatement.  Suzzy Khimm, who was attending the National Health Policy Conference in Washington when news broke, blogs the trauma suffered by her fellow conference goers:

“Honest to god, I’m stupefied by this,” said Marie Michnich from the Institute of Medicine, shortly after the news broke this afternoon.  “Now, to see all the work that’s been lost.  We had a sense of how it was going to work–how we were going to coordinate [health care reform] with the White House.  And now we’re just spinning.”  Others seemed similarly flabbergasted.  “No, no, no–oh no!” exclaimed Judith Leavitt, a writer for the American Journal of Nursing, who joined a group of conference-goers who were shaking their heads as they scanned their Blackberrys.  “There was a lot of momentum.  Now we’re starting again from square one–this changes all the dynamics.”  Another conference attendee was even more despondent.  “I’m going to go shoot myself now,” he muttered as he headed for the hotel escalators.

Despair.  Denial.  Suicidal ideation.  South Dakotans-turned-chauffeur-driven-strategic- advisors-working-for-lobbying-firms-but-not-actually-“lobbying”-or- registered-therein have a habit of sending a shiver up our collective legs.

Well, maybe not for all of us.

But that leaves us with a more basic question: how much does Mr. Daschle’s demise really change things?  Should Republicans and conservatives breathe a collective sigh of relief?

Mr. Daschle was formidable: he’s interested and informed on health policy; the former majority leader is incredibly connected in Washington (in retrospect, perhaps too connected).  And those who travel in Democratic circles have produced a list of uninspired replacement candidates including a failed presidential candidate, a forgotten governor, and a former insurance commissioner.

So let’s be clear: this undercuts the White House effort to lead health reform.  But as the stimulus bills have shown, there’s more than one cook in the Democratic kitchen.  Yes, the Office of Health Reform suddenly looks less important.  But is it just me or did Senator Baucus seem unusually calm, even tranquil, when commenting on the failed nomination?  “It’s barely a little ripple in the water,” he explained.  “It’s not a wave, just a ripple.”

Indeed, expect now a much bigger role for Congress in shaping health legislation — especially on the House side.

This development is thus potentially both good and bad.  On the one hand, liberal Democrats are much less likely to successfully push through sweeping legislation than Mr. Daschle had he not been thrown under the chauffeur-driven limo.  On the other hand, if they succeed — and they may — we may suddenly be nostalgic for the former secretary-designate.

Conservatives, then, should feel motivated.  It will be weeks, maybe months, before Mr. Daschle’s replacement is confirmed and settles into office.  There is time to strategize and prepare: to draw the line in the sand, to develop a compelling narrative, to prepare alternative legislation.  On this blog, Douglas Holtz-Eakin noted that Republicans have “ceded [this issue] to the Democrats.”  Alas, nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • nealjking

    The U.S. has a problem with access to health care – a problem that has been solved (at least in the interim) by Canada, UK, France, Germany, …

    It is not unreasonable to hope for someone you like better to succeed at generating a solution. But it IS unreasonable, and unseemly, to hope for failure, as you seem to be doing.

  • sinz54

    The GOP won’t be able to take the health care issue back from the Democrats, until it realizes that vastly improving access to health care (which is a big concern of many Americans) will not happen in a totally free market. Right now, I am struggling with a serious illness. There is no market incentive for any insurer to insure me at any reasonable premium, because my medical claims will exceed any premiums by a wide margin. If insurers can get away with it (i.e., no government regulations), they will drop such people from their rolls and refuse to take on any more. That doesn’t mean that the GOP can’t propose reforms that include substantial private sector involvement. It does mean that the GOP will have to accept more government regulation and control than free-market purists (e.g., the House Republicans) will like. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney signed into law a health care reform bill that works that way. And so far, it seems to be working, as far as improving access is concerned. (Please don’t pounce on me about rising costs. Most Americans are more concerned about access than cost containment.) Yet when he ran for President, Romney was forced to disclaim his own achievement, because the GOP faithful didn’t want to hear about any health care reform that required any government regulations or mandates whatsoever. Try looking to “RomneyCare” and you might have a valid GOP health care reform proposal–if you could get the free-market purists to swallow it.

  • Amy Menefee

    Baucus told CQ it was merely a “blip.” Daschle’s federal health board is already in the process of being created — it’s in the stimulus package! His vision for government involvement in choosing which treatments are effective — including COST-effective — is becoming reality.

    To learn more about this federal health board created in the stimulus, read here: