- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Life after Daschle

When Tom Daschle’s highly publicized tax problems derailed his bid to become secretary of health and human services two weeks ago, it slammed the breaks on the momentum of one of President Obama’s biggest campaign promises — health care coverage for all Americans.

No potential HHS candidate has emerged yet who has inspired the excitement and passion many health care reform advocates — both on and off Capitol Hill — expressed for Mr. Daschle.

When Mr. Obama nominated Mr. Daschle for the HHS post in November, Ron Pollack, executive director of the liberal health care advocacy group Families USA, called the decision “the best news possible for those who want to achieve meaningful health care reform.”

While the administration reportedly is vetting Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee for the Cabinet post, neither has the near universal support health care advocates gave to Mr. Daschle’s nomination.

Mr. Daschle’s “tax mistakes are regrettable,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, earlier this month. “But his tax mistakes do not change his qualifications to lead on health care reform.”

Mr. Daschle in many ways was the perfect person to fill the important post. The South Dakota Democrat is well-versed on the health care reform debate, even having written a book on the issue. As a former Senate majority and minority leader, he was well-tuned to the rhythms of Capitol Hill, and was well-liked by his former colleagues of both parties.

Women’s health care needs fix, lawmakers say

Democrats Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan last week introduced legislation calling on Congress to improve the health care situation of women.

The “sense of Congress” resolution, which would request that Congress draft legislation within 18 months that guarantees access to health care for “women and all individuals” is nonbinding. Still, Mrs. Schakowsky said the measure is important because it would hold Capitol Hill lawmakers accountable for improving the lives of women, who studies show receive unequal medical attention compared with men.

“Women face exceptional challenges and have a very personal stake in fixing our broken health care system — they understand we need to act now,” said Mrs. Schakowsky, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues.

Mrs. Stabenow said providing better health care for women would improve the lives of their families.

“Women are the gatekeepers of their families’ health,” she said. “If we are serious about keeping children and families healthy, we must focus more attention on keeping women healthy.”

More than 17 million non-elderly women were uninsured in 2006, an increase of 1.2 million women since 2004, the lawmakers said. Women also pay 68 percent more than men for out-of-pocket medical costs.

Teen protection bill OK’ed

The House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday approved a bill intended to protect teens from physical, mental and sexual abuse while attending residential treatment programs.

The legislation calls for improving standards and increasing transparency at facilities such as therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness programs and behavior-modification facilities.

The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act now heads to the full House for a possible vote.

“We are taking an important common-sense step toward finally ending this culture of abuse and neglect that has put thousands of teens in jeopardy,” said committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, one of the bill’s authors.

Investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during the past congressional session uncovered thousands of cases and claims of child abuse and neglect since the early 1990s at teen residential programs.

These programs are governed by a patchwork of state and federal standards.

A separate GAO report, also conducted last year at the committee’s request, found major gaps in the licensing and oversight of residential programs — some of which are not covered by any state licensing standards.

Sean Lengell can be reached at [email protected]

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