The “Daschle debacle” has the Obama administration scrambling for a replacement pick for secretary of health and human Services. Reforming the U.S. health insurance system is a top priority for the Obama team, and they need someone to lead the charge that not only has the experience and credibility to craft a workable plan but the political acumen to sell it in a bipartisan fashion as well. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle seemed to fit the bill, until his failure to pay his taxes torpedoed his nomination. Thus, in the midst of a brutal and bitter battle over his stimulus/spending plan, President Obama must quickly find a strong second choice.
Two Democrat governors have apparently emerged at the top of his list of prospects: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. Both governors have high approval ratings in Republican states. Both have substantial experience in the health care arena. Sebelius was Kansas’ insurance commissioner for eight years before becoming governor. Bredesen became a self-made millionaire in the health care industry before becoming mayor of Nashville and governor of Tennessee. Both supported Barack Obama on the campaign trail, although Obama ultimately carried neither Kansas nor Tennessee.
At this point, Sebelius probably has the edge over Bredesen. But is she really the smart choice for Obama to make? Sebelius is extremely popular in Kansas but is term-limited from seeking re-election in 2010. Republican Senator Sam Brownback is going to seek the governor’s office being vacated by Sebelius rather than run for re-election in 2010, and Sebelius has a great chance at turning that R seat in the Senate into a D seat. In fact, recent polling indicates that she has a double-digit lead over leading Republican candidates for that seat.
In fact, Sebelius is probably the only Democrat who can move that Kansas Senate seat into the Democrats column. That is why she won’t be selected to head HHS, unless President Obama doesn’t really want a filibuster proof U.S. Senate.