Daschle Could Be Replaced By Two Appointees

03/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

The decision by Tom Daschle to withdraw his nomination for the head of the Department of Health and Human Services has created, potentially, two job openings in the Obama White House.

In addition to removing himself from consideration at HHS, Daschle also relinquished his post as the president's health care czar. The later position is not tied -- save for policy overlap -- to the former. So it stands to reason that Obama could be making more than one new appointment.

A spokesman at the White House said, "no decision had been made on the proposal" and cautioned that the process of replacing Daschle was in such beginning stages that anything written on the matter would be pure speculation. But on Wednesday morning, the New York Times did just that, reporting that the administration was "considering replacing Mr. Daschle with two people."

And sources in the health care reform community say that White House might benefit from making two appointments instead of one.

"It's one of these things where Daschle was in a unique position in term of where he was and what he knew about health care reform," said a Democrat deeply involved in health care policy. "The idea of being a health care czar and HHS head all at the same time suited him. But I think it will depend on who the next person is, in terms of whether or not they can play those dual roles."

Certainly, Daschle brought qualities to the table that allowed him to wear two hats at once. A veteran of the Senate, he knew how legislation was passed. As one of Obama's closest and earliest advisers, he had the ear of the president. And his ability to manage a bureaucracy was bolstered by his time inside and out of government. Few potential replacements can match that resume -- save, perhaps, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, whose name was floated on Tuesday. The potential replacements getting the most attention on Wednesday do not.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is close to Obama and has experience managing a health care system. But her background on the national stage is limited, primarily, to heading the Democratic Governors Association. Her office said that she was "focusing her energy on the budget and the economic challenges facing Kansas." But they didn't shoot down the chatter that she could replace Daschle. "We'll let the speculators do the speculating and she will keep focusing on the important job at hand," said Beth Martino, the governor's press secretary and communications director.

Another name being discussed is Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen. Like Sebelius, his experience has been outside of Washington and he has run a state health care system. That, however, may not be the best of rallying points for health care reform advocates. As Ezra Klein of The American Prospect writes:

"As governor of Tennessee, Bredesen is famous -- or infamous -- for gutting TennCare, the state's low income health care provider. To be sure, this was not entirely Bredesen's fault. Poor finances combined with a truculent legislature did not leave him a vast range of options. But there were many in his state who felt he didn't come near to exhausting the possible alternatives and, in any case, the fact remains that under Bredesen, more than 320,000 of Tennessee's needy were thrown off the health care rolls."