The consensus on the Tom Daschle debacle is that his withdrawal as nominee for U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is a major setback for healthcare reform.
I agree for two reasons: one is logical; the other is grounded in nothing but my own idiosyncratic view of how policy is made in Washington.
First the logic. If you’ve read Daschle’s book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008), you’d know that his prescription for healthcare reform is essentially the same as Obama’s. Both seek universal healthcare coverage, in part through a new public health plan similar to what is offered to Federal employees.
Whatever the merits of the proposal, Obama will be hard pressed to find someone so in sync with his own healthcare policy platform and with Daschle’s knowledge of the subject, experience and political clout. Momentum on the issue will slow, and as Daschle has noted, momentum is key to pushing through any meaningful reform.
Now the idiosyncratic musings. My gut feeling toward Washington policy makers is that we and the powers that be get what we want. So if we really want the type reform advocated by Daschle (read Obama), we probably would have found a way to approve his nomination, as egregious as his missteps may have been. If we aren’t quite sure we’re up for this type of change….well, you get the idea.
I don’t want to take this notion too far, and I urge you to take it with a sizable grain of salt. But I do get the feeling sometimes that our reactions to malfeasance and moral failings in our political leaders are a proxy for how we feel about their policies.
If that’s true, then healthcare reform as envisioned by the Obama Administration is in for a long and uncertain fight. The tragedy is that the Daschle plan, though far from perfect, is a step in the right direction. It also represents a reasonable political compromise. The question is, can we be reasonable?