"She's forged a reputation for bipartisanship in her own right," said the President. And with that, Barack Obama announced that he was naming Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary. In another bipartisan move, the president was also flanked by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and current Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. He was also joined by Nancy Ann DeParle, who becomes head of the White House Health Care Office. DeParle, he said, would lead the "public and legislative effort" for health care. Obama also brought Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman on to the state as well.
Sebelius and Obama became close during the presidential campaign. She was an early endorser of his bid and Obama took frequent trips to Kansas, the birthplace of his mother. She was considered for vice president and went through a thorough vetting last summer.
Neera Tanden, who advised Hillary Clinton on domestic policy, and then worked for the Obama campaign, will also play an important role as will Jeanne Lambrew who, at least at the moment, is the deputy director at the White House Health Care office. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emmanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, is also likely to play a major role in health care reform. It's important ro remember, too, that any plan that emerges will be scrutinized by Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council.
The real question about health care's success depends on whether Obama can make it seem like an essential part of economic recovery. As Obama spoke the Dow continued to sink well below 7000. If he can make universal health care seem like an essential part of economic recovery he has a shot at prevailing. But at the moment too many people see health care as an expensive nicety, something that's desirable but not essential to recovery. The upcoming White House Health Care Summit should give the president another opportunity to reframe the debate but at the moment the fight is not being fought on terrain that's favorable to the president.