Obama Discusses Health Care

President-elect Barack Obama discussed the future of America's health care system at a press conference Thursday. Obama nominated former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services and Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, we report on the weekly jobless numbers, and for us, it's a bit personal.

BRAND: First, though, President-elect Barack Obama held a press conference today to announce many more cabinet appointments, among them former Senate Leader Tom Daschle for secretary of health and human services.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I've asked Tom to serve not just as my secretary of health and human services, but also of my White House Office of Health Reform. As such, he will be responsible not just for implementing our health-care plan, he will also be the lead architect of that plan.

BRAND: With us now, NPR's Don Gonyea covering that press conference. And, Don, before we get to the Tom Daschle news, let's talk about what the president-elect said about the charges against Illinois Governor Blagojevich.

DON GONYEA: That's right. People will recall that yesterday, after this story broke, the president-elect had a photo-op with former Vice President Al Gore. The topic there was supposed to be the environment. But he just made the briefest of statement there, basically saying that, you know, he was saddened and disappointed by the news out of the Illinois investigation against Blagojevich and that he had had no contact whatsoever with Blagojevich.

But today, this was a press conference presumably to talk about the new health and human services secretary, Mr. Daschle. And of the four questions that the president-elect took, three of them were about the Blagojevich scandal, and he did kind of reiterate that he had nothing to do with any discussions, that there were no discussions, that he did not talk about the Senate seat. But give a listen to the president-elect.

President-elect OBAMA: Let me say that I was as appalled and disappointed as anybody by the revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat.

GONYEA: And the other thing that the president-elect said is that, for anybody on his team to have engaged in any kind of deal-making with Governor Blagojevich, he said that would have ran counter to what his entire presidential campaign was about. He could not say absolutely at this point that there was absolutely no contact between his team and the Blagojevich folks or the governor himself.

He said they're going to look into what kind of contact there may have been and that they will release that in the coming days. The other thing he did is, he repeated his call that Blagojevich should step down. He said he just cannot serve as governor given what we have heard on those tapes, seen on those transcripts.

BRAND: OK. And so now, let's get to that Tom Daschle news. I mean, big news that he will be the lead architect of the new health-care plan. What else did he say?

GONYEA: Exactly. And they put this in the context of the national economy. Let's just give a listen again to the president-elect first.

President-elect OBAMA: Some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our health-care system. And I ask a different question. I ask, how can we afford not to?

GONYEA: As Mr. Obama said so many times over the course of the campaign, there are 45 million people without health care. But again, putting it in the broader context, he said that so many businesses are in trouble now or on the brink. There are foreclosures, there are bankruptcies being filed because of health care costs. And he said, until we finally get our hands on some sort of meaningful national health-care reform, then we cannot address the larger problems of the economy.

BRAND: OK. NPR's Don Gonyea covering the president-elect. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: OK. My pleasure.

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