Friday, February 06, 2009

Howard Dean as HHS Secretary?

With former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle having to step aside, President Obama will have to nominate someone else to run the Department of Health and Human Services. There's no obvious choice right now. Eleanor Clift at Newsweek thinks it should be former Vermont Gov. and DNC Chair Howard Dean:
Obama doesn't have a Plan B. Daschle was a shoo-in for the job, and there is no deep bench of runners-up vetted and ready to serve. Still, Obama may surprise us. In order to regain political momentum and convey the impression that while losing Daschle is a blow, it's not a body blow, he might want to have Daschle's successor ready to announce before the crocuses come up. One prominent Democrat has made no secret of the fact that he would love the job and that's Howard Dean. He's a doctor; his wife is a doctor; and he's not beholden to anyone as far as we know. In fact, Dean was running against the entrenched special interests in Washington back when the presidency was still just a gleam in Obama's eye.
I love Howard Dean. Before Barack Obama came along, he inspired me to be impassioned about politics. Like many liberal bloggers, the thought of Dean being named HHS Secretary (especially to replace Daschle, who pretty much represents that kind of Democrat that Dean's '04 campaign railed against) would delight me on some level. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, whom endorsed Dean in 2004 (not that it did him any good), also has announced his support. And the health care reform plan he got passed in Vermont and pushed during his presidential campaign is similar to Obama's. But he's unlikely to get it. Some of Obama's people, particularly Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, don't like him. But, more than that, I question whether he'd be effective.

Aside from the close personal relationship they developed after Daschle endorsed his presidential almost from the get-go, Obama was counting on his knowledge of Congress to push through comprehensive health care reform. Dean doesn't have any experience dealing with Congress, and let's face it, a lot of moderate and conservative Democrats wouldn't want to deal with him because they wouldn't want him to be seen with "that liberal."

Some of the other names being floated around, such as Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (who passed a bipartisan plan that covered all Tennessee children), also lack experience dealing with Congress. So my guess is Obama will pull someone from their ranks. Possible nominees include Sens. Ron Wyden (whose own reform plan has the most bipartisan support of any right now) and Max Baucus, a committee chairman who (along with Ted Kennedy) would be a key player in getting health care reform passed.

To be honest, I don't know who would be the best choice. But, as I'm sure he knows, President Obama has to get this right. If he doesn't, it will greatly hinder the effort to institute what could be one of his greatest achievements - universal health care.

UPDATE: Reports are that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, who was the former insurance commissioner of the state, is at the top of the list.

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