Tom Daschle may have given up his chance to shepherd health reform through Congress when he withdrew as nominee for Health and Human Services secretary amid a tax flap, but he's still lending his voice to the debate, albeit sporadically. President Obama consulted with Daschle on his last working day before leaving for summer vacation at Camp David and Martha's Vineyard; the White House described Daschle's visit as a "quick check-in" and said the two agreed "that substantive reform that lowers costs, reforms the insurance industry, and expands coverage is too important to wait another year or another administration," and to stay in touch as the reform push continues.
Today, Daschle published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal invoking the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in calling for health care reform, pressing Democrats to use budget reconciliation to pass reforms if the preferable 60-vote avenue can't be attained, and arguing that Democrats cannot "ignore the human suffering" of the uninsured just to eschew the unpalatable reconciliation course.
But Daschle's value in the health care push goes well beyond the stump. Before he withdrew as health czar, he was envisioned as a tactician and rolodex man, who could work his relationships with members of both parties to get major health reform passed, using knowledge of the legislature, personality, the respect he enjoys among senators, and finesse. If Daschle were in the administration, could he convince Sens. Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe to vote for a public option?
Surely, he must have some advice on that convincing. The New York Times reported in late August that Daschle "talks constantly" with top White House advisers, so it seems his role is a bit larger than the "quick check-in" might suggest. And, just because he didn't take the HHS job, that doesn't mean he can't make a call or two. So far, we know he's talking to the White House, and that his role can't be too ostentatiously public, because of the tax flap and ensuing withdrawal.
But we don't know how the extent to which the White House is using him, and we can only guess at whether a bigger role for Daschle, and the criticism it may bring from the right, would help or hurt the reform effort in the end.