Three Cheers for Tom Daschle

I have always been a Tom Daschle fan.  His defeat by a somewhat limited John Thune was one of my (many) low points in 2004.

I had hoped that President Elect Obama might pick Daschle as his Chief of Staff, as I’ve particularly admired the evenness of the former Senator’s keel.  But recently, I’ve become convinced that Obama and Daschle are likely too temperamentally similar to have that relationship, and that the choice of Rep. Emanuel for that post is likely a good one.

Which brings us back to Daschle.  I wrote admiringly in May about his book, Critical.    If as Politico reports, Daschle is also to be the anointed health care czar, a fascinating drama could be set to play out in Congress.   Assuming his head is still where it was when he wrote his book, Daschle proposes to take health care reform and administration largely out of the hands of Congress, and place it in the hands of a body not unlike the Federal Reserve.  Like monetary policy in 1913, Daschle thinks that health care reform is too complicated and subject to conflicts of interest to be handled by Congress.  As a former Senate Majority leader from a populist state, it will be most intriguing to see how he fashions his argument. 

It will also be interesting to see whether Daschle, unlike almost everyone else who talks about health care reform, properly defines the problem as one of excess costs and inefficiency rather than one of insufficient coverage.  Obama started down this road early in the primary campaign, but had to veer off this message due to what his campaign judged was its excessive complexity (and due to Clinton’s incessant hammering of the wrong key on the piano).  Intricate propositions the likes of “the reason we can’t cover everyone is because covering everyone is too expensive” could simply not compete with “shame on you for not covering everyone.”

With any luck, Daschle will buy himself enough distance from the 24/7 news cycle to indulge in a little reality-based analysis.  According to the newly printed, delightfully highbrow procrastination enabler Economist World in Figures 2008, the United States spends a world-topping 15.4% of its GNP on health care.  From the top the rankings tumble to West Bank/Gaza, Malawi, Lebanon, and–finally–Switzerland, a country we’ve sort of heard of and actully visited occasionally.

Switzerland spends 11.5% of its GNP on health care, a full third less than the U.S.  And whereas Switzerland ranks #5 among nations in life expectancy, the U.S. ranks #41.

What gives, and what will Daschle be forced to deal with?  More on that tomorrow.


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