Here’s the White House response to the Daschle withdrawal:
As spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “the issue of affordable health care for every American is bigger than one person; and the job of ensuring health care reform will outlast any person nominated for the Secretary of HHS and likely anybody that serves in this administration.”
Many think it stalls the process, although some weren’t fans of Daschle (see John Nichols at The Nation). Many have had fun with the name game of who might be replace Daschle in either or both of his roles, as HHS Secretary, and as Director of the White House Office of Health Reform.
Some are having too much fun: The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn: Arnold? –working for someone besides himself? The American Prospect‘s Ezra Klein: Kim Belshe? Time‘s Karen Tumulty: Mitt Romney? –the guy who vetoed large parts of his own reform? They all admit these are not serious candidates–just ideas when you don’t have word limits as a blogger.
At some level, the person matters, but not as much as their boss, President Obama. There will be some internal fights in the White House where a skilled and experienced and knowledgeable person makes a difference, but only until it reaches the President’s desk. Individuals matter more in Congress: that’s why Senator Kennedy’s health and Congressman Waxman’s ascent to Energy and Commerce chair are probably more significant than Daschle’s replacement.
Don’t get me wrong: The Department of Health and Human Services is the largest agency in the Cabinet, with the possible exception of Defense. It is significant in budget, reach, activity, and to the millions which it serves. The quality and integrity and caliber of people who run it matter immensely. But the most important person in the Administration–especially on the issue of health reform–will always be the President.