Today’s news conference was overshadowed by the spectacular end of Milorad “Rod” R. Blagojevich’s political career; nevertheless, the appointment of Tom Daschle as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services may ultimately prove the the most pivotal in a series of important cabinet choices. Daschle was also named Director of a new White House Office of Health Reform. This second title represents a unique grant of authority from the president-elect to Daschle, former Senate majority leader and mentor to Obama.  The Washington Post (12/5) writes:

Unlike his predecessors, Thomas A. Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, will be given an expanded role, leading administration efforts to overhaul the U.S. health system.

“This really creates a new type of secretary,” said Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. In the past, “HHS was more or less a service organization to the White House,” while White House advisers drove policy initiatives.

Progressives are bound to be disappointed by Obama the political pragmatist, but given the track record of comprehensive reform in the U.S. system the appointment is fairly bold. ThinkProgress quotes Daschle during a 2008 conference on health reform sponsored by FamiliesUSA.

Incremental change in our system is no longer a viable option. Instead we need comprehensive reform. In growing numbers the American people are demanding that we do something. Our goal should be to build what current and retired members of Congress have today, and make that available for all Americans.

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