Obama names former Senate leader as health secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has named former Senate leader Tom Daschle as his health secretary in a bid to address the US health care crisis and work to broaden access to medical services.


AFP - Longtime Washington player Tom Daschle made his mark as the US Senate's patient, persistent majority leader -- qualities he will need in abundance as he guides Barack Obama's high-risk drive to end the US health care crisis.

One of the earliest and most ardent supporters of Obama's presidential bid, Daschle on Thursday was named by the president-elect to be the next US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The high-profile appointment puts overhaul of the dysfunctional US health care system front-and-center in the agenda of the new administration.

"I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than the man standing beside me," said Obama, flanked by Daschle, and hailed his latest cabinet pick as "one of America's foremost health care experts."

"Tom brings more than just great expertise to this task, he brings the respect he earned during his years of leadership in Congress," said Obama, who said Daschle will serve not just at the helm of HHS, but also as director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

"He knows how to reach across the aisle and bridge partisan divides."

Daschle, who observed his 61st birthday on Tuesday, will be charged with shepherding healthcare reform legislation through Congress, in line with Obama's campaign vow to revamp the US medical system and help 45 million Americans who have no health insurance.

The last major healthcare reform attempt -- an effort backed by Daschle -- was piloted by Hillary Clinton during her husband Bill Clinton's administration and ended in failure.

Daschle will be assisted by his deputy Jeanne Lambrew, with whom he authored a book on health care reform and who shared the podium Thursday with Obama and Daschle.

For his part, Daschle said he was honored to be entrusted lead the charge in tackling America's "largest domestic policy challenge."

"I'm eager to work closely with the people from across the country to find a path forward that makes health care in this country as affordable and available as it is innovative," said Daschle.

An expert on health care who earlier this year co-authored the book "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis," Daschle said Thursday that the health care reform issue is "close to my heart," and hailed HHS as "an organization that touched so many lives, at a time when there is so much at stake."

From a working-class, Roman Catholic background, Daschle was the oldest of four boys who grew up in the town of Aberdeen, in the heartland state of South Dakota.

He became the first person in his ethnic-German family to graduate from college when he earned a political science degree from South Dakota State University in 1969.

In 1978, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he served four terms and became a part of the Democratic leadership.

He was elected to the US Senate in 1986, handily winning he reelection bids until 2004, when he lost a close race against Republican rising star John Thune.

Daschle has been working as a "special public policy adviser" with the Washington law and lobbying firm of Alston and Bird.

Daschle is married to Washington lobbyist, Linda Hall Daschle, who specializes in aviation and homeland security. He has three grown children from a previous marriage.

The easy-going South Dakotan shares a temperament with the president-elect, who has been dubbed "no drama Obama" for his unflappable reserve.

But on Thursday Obama said it was his future health secretary who is "the original no-drama guy, known for speaking softly, but leading boldly."

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