Daschle, With Congress, To Overhaul Health Care

The Senate kicked off the confirmation process for President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet picks Thursday. First to go before a Senate committee was former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. He's been tapped to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Daschle says his first and largest task will be to work with Congress to overhaul the nation's health care system.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The Senate kicked off the confirmation process for President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet picks yesterday. First to go before a Senate committee was a former member of the world's most exclusive club, Tom Daschle. He used to be the Senate's majority leader, and now he's been tapped to head the Department of Health and Human Services. NPR's Julie Rovner has more.

JULIE ROVNER: It was supposed to be Tom Daschle's day, but his appearance was almost overshadowed at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by the return of its chairman, the venerable Edward Kennedy. Kennedy's been mostly absent since last spring, undergoing treatment for a malignant brain tumor. But only a slight tremor betrayed Kennedy's health troubles, as he welcomed back his former leader.

Senator EDWARD M. KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Reform is urgently needed, and Tom Daschle is just the person for the job.

ROVNER: Daschle, the veteran of more than a few of these hearings, quickly returned favor.

Former Senator THOMAS A. DASCHLE (Democrat, South Dakota; Appointee, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Barack Obama Administration): Testifying on the subject of healthcare before Ted Kennedy feels a bit like talking about one's trumpet-playing skills in front of Louis Armstrong.

ROVNER: As the presumptive secretary of Health and Human Services, Daschle said his first and largest task will be to work with Congress to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.

Sen. DASCHLE: It is unacceptable that in a nation of approximately 300 million people, nearly one in six Americans don't have health insurance, and as we face a harsh and deep recession, the problem of the uninsured is likely to grow.

ROVNER: And it wasn't just Kennedy who sang Daschle's praises. The panel's top Republican, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, said he's read Daschle's recent book on healthcare and instructed his staff to read it, too. Unfortunately for Daschle, the health committee doesn't get to vote on his nomination. That task belongs to the finance committee, which oversees an even larger portion of the HHS portfolio. That hearing is expected next week. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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