Daschle to head HHS?

DASCHLE TO HEAD HHS?…. Even before the election, drafts of what an Obama cabinet might look like had former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle taking the lead at HHS. If the reports today are accurate, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Three sources close to the transition and in a position to know tell CNN that former Sen. Tom Daschle is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be Secretary of Health and Human Services and the former Senate Majority Leader has indicated he wants the job.

Most significantly, Daschle negotiated that he will also serve as the White House health “czar” — or point person — so that he will report directly to the incoming President. The significance is this guarantees that by wearing two hats Daschle, and not White House staffers, will be writing the health care plan that Obama submits to Congress next year.

The sources said the precise timing of the announcement has not been worked out, but Daschle is likely to officially join the Obama transition team as the lead adviser on health issues in the next few weeks.

Roll Call, I believe, was the first to report the news.

The Daschle announcement reinforces the notion that an Obama administration is going to take the push for healthcare reform very seriously. A senior Democratic official told Mike Allen, “Of all the proposals that Obama wants to enact, health care requires the most input and tough negotiations and shepherding. No one knows the House and Senate like Tom Daschle.”

Indeed, the Daschle news makes me even more encouraged about the prospect of a healthcare package actually passing. Emanuel is insisting that an incremental approach won’t do; Baucus and Kennedy are laying the groundwork on the Hill; and Daschle has been preparing for this fight for quite a while.

For more on what to expect in terms of the policy debate, you can also check out Daschle’s recent book about healthcare policy, and Ezra’s interview with him on the subject earlier this year.

Update: Jonathan Cohn has more, including why this is the “perfect role for Daschle,” and why this is “good news for health reform.”