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The Health Picks and the Obama Health-Care Plan



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Yesterday, President Obama tried again.

Some three months after first nominating former Sen. Tom Daschle to be Secretary of HHS, the president announced he was nominating Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for the slot. He also named Nancy-Ann DeParle, a competent veteran of the Clinton administration, to head the White House Office of Health Reform — a post that does not require Senate confirmation.

What’s noteworthy about both nominations is that they come after the Administration sent its “plan” for reform to Congress.

That’s right — the Obama health-care plan has already been sent to Congress.  Missed it?

The administration looks to be very consciously pursuing the favorite White House legislative strategy of every Congress: specify the offsets and let Congress spend it. And that’s essentially what the Obama administration is doing.

The budget submitted by the president to Congress last week specified the “pay fors” for the health-care plan — $634 billion from the cap on charitable and home mortgage interest deductions for high-earners, as well as some Medicare cuts. But, regarding how that money should be spent, there was nothing but a “TBD.” A vague list of “principles” was included in the budget narrative, but just about any plan written in Congress would meet them. I don’t expect the White House to send anything more specific on the plan to Congress before legislation starts to move in the various committees.

This is not to suggest that Sebelius and DeParle won’t be influential. In time, they probably will be. But that influence will be in working with the lead Congressional authors — likely Henry Waxman and Pete Stark, aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Max Baucus — not in writing the plan themselves.

The other noteworthy aspect of the Sebelius nomination is that it would seem to cement for good a strongly antagonistic relationship between pro-lifers and the administration. President Obama has made noises off and on about finding common ground with the pro-life community, although he was never very specific about how he would go about doing that. That was always a remote possibility, but now it is even more unlikely now that Sebelius has been nominated — especially so soon after the administration announced its plan to gut HHS’s conscience protection regulations.

– James C. Capretta is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  He served as an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004.



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