Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota has no interest in the vice presidency or in serving as chief of staff if Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is elected president, but sources say he is interested in universal health care and might relish serving as HHS secretary.
Daschle, an early and ardent backer of Obama's bid for the White House and a key player in President Clinton's push for universal health care in 1993, told CongressDaily he hopes he "can be helpful, perhaps in a prospective Obama administration, on healthcare reform" and added that he would be "interested in finding ways to do that."
But he also said it was "so premature" to be thinking about possible roles and offered the standard diplomatically correct answer that he does not expect to be asked to run HHS.
When pressed, he said, "I've got some ideas that I think could be of help on this issue."
Daschle outlined some of those ideas in his little-noticed book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis," which was published in February. In it he proposes a Federal Health Board to "create a public framework for a largely private health-care delivery system."
He also devotes a section of the book to "What Went Wrong And Models For Making It Right," with a heavy concentration on the Clinton plan. "I think it's important that we learn the lessons of the past," he said Wednesday.
Daschle is well aware of those lessons, having played a major part in the failed campaign for universal health care and learned many of the mistakes that were made from a Capitol Hill perspective.
In their book on the failed attempt, "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point," journalists David Broder and Haynes Johnson wrote that Daschle was among a group of six Democratic senators who "battled to the end even when there was no hope."
That legislative battle put a number of Democrats in jeopardy of losing their seats; indeed, Republicans took control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections. But the political environment might be different this time, with Democrats widely expected to build on their majorities in the House and Senate and with health care high on the list of priorities for many candidates.
In his book, Daschle said that while Clinton and then-first lady, now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton "were eloquent in outlining the problem, they seemed to be far less successful when it came to promoting their plan for solving it. We had one of the best political communicators in history on our side, and yet we were far less effective than our opponents were in getting our message across."
Sen. Clinton, along with Daschle and many other present and former Democratic lawmakers and leaders, is in the mix for key roles in Obama's campaign, on the basis of the broad support her presidential campaign had in swing states. In recent days, she has been mentioned for such roles as vice presidential nominee and Supreme Court justice.
But her interest in playing a high-profile role in healthcare legislation, which she expressed Tuesday as Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination for president, has put HHS in play for her, too.
Clinton has not publicly stated the role she would like to play. But she has also not narrowed the field, as Daschle did last weekend on NBC's "Meet the Press." Daschle told moderator Tim Russert he had no interest in serving as vice president in an Obama administration. He also said he was not interested in serving as chief of staff, as former Rep. Leon Panetta of California did in the Clinton White House.
But Daschle wasn't so negative when Russert asked if would be interested in serving again in the federal government. "That's a possibility," he said.
This article appears in the June 7, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.