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Daschle faces easy time before hearing

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Health and Human Services Secretary designate Tom Daschle faced a warm reception Thursday before a Senate panel gathered to vet his nomination, paving the way for his expected confirmation to head President-elect Barack Obama's health care reform strategy.

"Tom Daschle understands the urgency and the challenge of health reform," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. "Reform is urgently needed and Tom Daschle is just the person for the job."

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Mr. Daschle "will make great secretary of Health and Human Services, and I intend to support you when you're there as well."

Mr. Daschle's appearance before the committee was the first of a bevy of confirmation hearings to take place on Capitol Hill during the next few weeks for Mr. Obama's cabinet and other nominees.

Mr. Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat and former Senate majority leader, told the panel that the "flaws in our health care system are pervasive and corrosive" and "threaten our health and economic security."

He added that the nation's health care strategy has failed to adequately stress preventative care, and vowed to "change the paradigm in this country on health care" if his nomination is approved.

"Coverage after you get sick should be a second line of defense," he said. "Today, it's often the first line of defense."

Mr. Daschle, an early supporter of Mr. Obama's presidential bid, is a strong proponent of the president-elect's health care reform plan that includes some form of universal health care coverage -- a position opposed by most Republicans.

But Mr. Daschle faced little resistance from Republican members of the committee.

"I want to work with you (Mr. Daschle) and President-elect Obama to help every American get high quality, affordable health insurance," said Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the health committee's ranking Republican. "We can work together to make a positive difference in Americans' lives.

But Mr. Enzi did warn against expanding insurance coverage through more government bureaucracies, such as Medicaid.

"Forcing private plans to compete with a public program like Medicaid, with its price controls and ability to shift costs to private payers, will inevitably doom true competition," he said. "Any new insurance coverage must be delivered through private health insurance plans."

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