WASHINGTON – Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has accepted President-elect Barack Obama's offer to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democratic officials said Wednesday. The appointment has not been announced, but these officials said the job is Daschle's, barring an unforeseen problem as Obama's team reviews the background of the South Dakota Democrat.
One area of review will include the lobbying connections of his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, who has lobbied mostly on behalf of airline-related companies over the years. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Daschle was a close adviser to Obama throughout the former Illinois senator's White House campaign. He recently wrote a book on his proposals to improve health care, and he is working with former Senate leaders on recommendations to improve the system.
Organizations seeking to expand health coverage were quick to praise the selection.
"Sen. Daschle has a deep commitment to securing high-quality, affordable health care for everyone in our nation," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "His new leadership position confirms that the incoming Obama administration has made health care reform a top and early priority for action in 2009."
After losing re-election to the Senate in 2004, Daschle became a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including health care, financial services and taxes and trade, according to the firm Web site.
His wife was acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the Clinton administration. She is one of Washington's top lobbyists. Her lobbying clients over the past year included American Airlines, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Senate lobbying records show.
Daschle is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank run by top Obama transition adviser and former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta. According to his biography for the think tank, Daschle serves on the advisory boards of Intermedia Partners and the BP America Inc. external advisory council, and on the boards of CB Richard Ellis, Mascoma Corp., Prime BioSolutions, The Freedom Forum, the Mayo Clinic, the Center for American Progress, the LBJ Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Daschle's strong Capitol Hill ties and knowledge of how HHS works mean "it is a perfect appointment," said former Republican Congressman John Porter, who chairs the medical research advocacy group Research!America. "He'll do an outstanding job."
Besides health reform, the next HHS secretary will deal with the growing budgetary woes of some of the nation's critical health agencies.
One example: Years of funding that didn't keep up with inflation means the National Institutes of Health has lost 14 percent of its buying power, said Dr. Harold Varmus, NIH's former director and a science adviser to Obama's campaign. That has left promising disease research without money to move forward.
Obama also announced several transition working group leaders, including Daschle, who will oversee the health policy working group. They include former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner on energy and environment and former Clinton White House adviser Jim Steinberg and Obama campaign senior foreign policy adviser Susan Rice on national security.