Czar 44, where are you? White House may nix health czar post
The White House may not appoint a health czar after all, Politico reports.
The Health Reform Office was a newly created bureacracy, custom-designed for Barack Obama's trusted ally and political mentor, former Sen. Tom Daschle.
Obama's plan was to give Daschle two jobs, Secretary of Health and Human Services and head of the Health Reform Office. Czar Daschle was to be Obama's point man in Congress on health care reform.
However, Daschle had to bow out earlier this month when it was revealed that he hadn't paid taxes on tens of thousands of dollars worth of perks he received during his second career as a crypto-lobbyist for the health care and student loan industries.
Politico notes that the deputy director of the Health Reform Office, Jeanne Lambrew, has already been reassigned to HHS to help administer the health-related spending in the stimulus package--which may be a sign that the White House intends to pull the plug on the Health Reform Office altogether.
If the Health Reform Office survives, the top job will probably remain unfilled until after Obama names a Secretary of Health and Human Services. It does not appear that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Gov. Howard Dean, or any of the favorites to lead HHS are being considered for the dual role of health czar.
Perhaps the health czar post lost its raison d'etre when Daschle dropped out.
Update: Ezra Klein argues convincingly that the Health Reform Office probably isn't worth much without Daschle. The health czar was supposed to be the direct line to the White House. When Clinton tackled healthcare reform, outreach to Congress was hampered by persistent ambiguity about who really spoke for the president. Every executive branch bureaucrat seeking to influence Congress will imply that her agenda is the president's agenda.
The health czar was supposed to solve all that by serving as a single authoritative liason. Daschle was close enough to Obama to be a credible emissary to Congress. As Ezra notes, there already a number of top healthcare officials with close ties to the president. If Kathleen Sebelius is chosen to lead HHS, there will be one more. Unless the White House fills the job with someone whose connection to the president is as strong as Daschle's. the health czar would just be one more voice claiming to speak for the president.