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After Daschle's Demise

February 08, 2009

By David Gratzer

Ceci Connolly, blogging at, describes "proponents of overhauling America's heath care system" as being "shocked" when Mr. Daschle withdrew his name from nomination.

Reading the The New Republic Online, that would seem to be an understatement. Suzzy Khimm, who was attending the National Health Policy Conference in Washington when news broke, blogs the trauma suffered by her fellow conference goers:

"Honest to god, I'm stupefied by this," said Marie Michnich from the Institute of Medicine, shortly after the news broke this afternoon. "Now, to see all the work that's been lost. We had a sense of how it was going to work—how we were going to coordinate [health care reform] with the White House. And now we're just spinning." Others seemed similarly flabbergasted. "No, no, no—oh no!—exclaimed Judith Leavitt, a writer for the American Journal of Nursing, who joined a group of conference-goers who were shaking their heads as they scanned their Blackberrys. "There was a lot of momentum. Now we're starting again from square one—this changes all the dynamics." Another conference attendee was even more despondent. "I'm going to go shoot myself now," he muttered as he headed for the hotel escalators.

Despair. Denial. Suicidal ideation. South Dakotans-turned-chauffeur-driven-strategic- advisors-working-for-lobbying-firms-but-not-actually-"lobbying"-or- registered-therein have a habit of sending a shiver up our collective legs.

Well, maybe not for all of us.

But that leaves us with a more basic question: how much does Mr. Daschle's demise really change things? Should Republicans and conservatives breathe a collective sigh of relief?

Mr. Daschle was formidable: he's interested and informed on health policy; the former majority leader is incredibly connected in Washington (in retrospect, perhaps too connected). And those who travel in Democratic circles have produced a list of uninspired replacement candidates including a failed presidential candidate, a forgotten governor, and a former insurance commissioner.

So let's be clear: this undercuts the White House effort to lead health reform. But as the stimulus bills have shown, there's more than one cook in the Democratic kitchen. Yes, the Office of Health Reform suddenly looks less important. But is it just me or did Senator Baucus seem unusually calm, even tranquil, when commenting on the failed nomination? "It's barely a little ripple in the water," he explained. "It's not a wave, just a ripple."

Indeed, expect now a much bigger role for Congress in shaping health legislation—especially on the House side.

This development is thus potentially both good and bad. On the one hand, liberal Democrats are much less likely to successfully push through sweeping legislation than Mr. Daschle had he not been thrown under the chauffeur-driven limo. On the other hand, if they succeed—and they may—we may suddenly be nostalgic for the former secretary-designate.

Conservatives, then, should feel motivated. It will be weeks, maybe months, before Mr. Daschle's replacement is confirmed and settles into office. There is time to strategize and prepare: to draw the line in the sand, to develop a compelling narrative, to prepare alternative legislation. On this blog, Douglas Holtz-Eakin noted that Republicans have "ceded [this issue] to the Democrats." Alas, nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging.

Original Source:



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