In the Washington Post today, Dana Milbank captures the funeral-like atmosphere in the Senate office building yesterday as Harry Reid annouced they would not meet President Obama’s deadline of passing a health care bill before the August recess. This is a good time to pose a question that I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks: would things have gone differently if Tom Daschle weren’t forced to withdraw in February because of his tax issues?
If you remember, Daschle was supposed to have the dual role of being Secretary of Health and Human Services and the White House point person on health care. But the key thing that he brought to the table was that he had a unique level of clout, contacts, and experience on Capitol Hill. Right now, the health care effort is being bogged down by the typical difficulties of moving anything big through Congress. But that was Daschle’s strong suit. He had the trust of his former Senate collegues, and understood the delicate nature of negotiations, of how to win over moderates wthout losing liberals. And while some have criticized Obama for not being more involved at the drafting stage of legislation, in Daschle he would have had a dedicated point person on the issue. Furthermore, just looking at the timeline, Daschle started laying the groundwork for health care reform immediately after last November’s election and had put in three months of work before he was forced to withdraw. When that happened, I called it a “major setback,” and not just because they lost Daschle, but that they squandered several months of work on the health care issue, and then took another month to replace him. Perhaps the problems health care is running into now would have been inevitable with or without Daschle, but my sense is that the White House is really missing his legislative talents right now.
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