Obama splits time on healthcare, scandal

Dec. 11, 2008 at 11:58 AM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's selection of Tom Daschle to oversee the nation's health agency was eclipsed Thursday by the Illinois governor scandal.

Daschle, the former U.S. Senate Democratic leader, was asked to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and also will head the new White House office for healthcare reform. His assistant at HHS and in the new office will be Dr. Jeanne Lambrew, whom Obama also introduced Thursday during a news conference in Chicago.

Obama said Daschle would be the administration's point person on healthcare issues and will be involved in writing the healthcare reform bill Obama plans to submit to Congress.

"The growing costs of healthcare are unsustainable and the plight of the uninsured is unconscionable," Daschle said. "Healthcare ... has been our largest domestic policy issue."

Obama said it was "hard to overstate importance" of his charge to Daschle, noting that 45 million Americans are uninsured.

"This simply cannot continue," he said.

Concerning the scandal engulfing Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Obama said he was "appalled and disappointed" by the news that Blagojevich was arrested on charges that included an allegation of trying to sell Obama's U.S. Senate seat.

"I have never spoken to the governor" concerning "any deal" about the seat, Obama said, adding that he hoped Blagojevich resigns as governor.

"I had no contact with the governor's office," Obama said.

He said this staff is gathering information about contacts "that may have taken place" between his transition team and the governor's office and will release the information.

"This Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade," Obama said. "It belongs to the people of Illinois."

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