‘This is part of the emergency’

‘THIS IS PART OF THE EMERGENCY’…. For all the interest in Barack Obama’s thoughts on the Blagojevich controversy, the president-elect had some more important things to say about healthcare.

Calling an overhaul of the health care system a basic element of his administration’s economic recovery programs, President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday presented former Senator Tom Daschle as his choice to become secretary of health and human services and to lead efforts to secure “affordable, accessible health care for every single American.” […]

Mr. Obama, noting that more than 45 million people have no health insurance, said, “The runaway cost of health care is punishing families and businesses across the country.”

A major health care initiative “has to be intimately woven into our overall economic recovery plan,” Mr. Obama said, adding: “It’s not something that we can put off because we are in an emergency. This is part of the emergency.” (emphasis added)

Obama left no doubt that this issue ranks near the top of his priority list: “[S]ome may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. Well, I ask a different question — I ask how we can afford not to. Right now, small businesses across America are laying people off or shutting their doors for good because of rising health care costs. And some of the largest corporations in America — including major American car makers — are struggling to compete with foreign companies unburdened by these costs. Instead of investing in research and development, instead of expanding and creating new jobs, our companies are pouring more and more money into a health care system that is failing too many families. So let’s be clear: if we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge.”

How soon into his administration can we expect movement? Obama specifically said at his press conferences that he wants action “this year,” referring to 2009.

One other thought about this morning’s introductions. Tom Daschle, as we’ve talked about, is going to be a critically important figure in the push for reform. But let’s not overlook Jeanne Lambrew, who’ll be the deputy director of the new White House Office of Health Reform.

For those looking for smart, strong, unapologetic liberals shaping administration policy, Lambrew is just what the doctor ordered. Jonathan Cohn noted that Lambrew is more than just an expert on healthcare policy; she also brings “a strong commitment to what you might call the ‘social justice’ side of the debate: Making sure everybody has insurance and, more important, good insurance.”

It’s hard not to feel encouraged.

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