To the delight of Democrats who have fretted that health care reform would fall victim to pressing economic matters or Tom Daschle's failed nomination, two key Senate leaders -- Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chairman Ted Kennedy -- affirmed on Thursday that they want reform done "this year."
In a joint letter sent to President Obama, the two Senators write:
We were saddened to hear about Senator Daschle's decision to withdraw from the nomination process. While we continue to believe that Senator Daschle is highly qualified to hold the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services, we respect his decision and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
We are writing to affirm our continuing commitment to enacting comprehensive health care reform this year, and to express our confidence that you will swiftly choose an exceptionally qualified and dedicated alternate nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services to assist in our efforts. As you have emphasized, we must act now. The ranks of the uninsured grow larger each day. The cost of health care to families, businesses and government are crippling and, although we spend more on health care than any other country, the quality of care provided by America's health care system is often uneven compared to other industrialized nations.
We have a moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care. We must act to contain the growth of health care costs to ensure our economic stability; to help American businesses deal with the health care challenge; and to make sure that we are getting our money's worth. Incremental efforts will no longer suffice and we cannot afford to wait any longer. With your continued leadership and commitment, we remain certain that our goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished this year.
Senator Max Baucus Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Senate Finance Committee Senate HELP Committee
Health care reform, of course, will be a different beast when it comes to the House of Representatives, where Democrats like Jim Clyburn have suggested an incremental approach is necessary. But for groups who follow and advocate on this issue, the Baucus-Kennedy letter is being greeted as major step forward.