Washington (AP) - Showing the emphasis that some lawmakers are putting on health care issues this year, former Sen. Tom Daschle will be the first of President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet choices to undergo a hearing.
Daschle, Obama's pick as the next health and human services secretary, was to appear Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee's chairman is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
The committee will not vote on whether Daschle's nomination should be sent to the full Senate for a vote; That responsibility lies with the Senate Finance Committee. But in the coming months, the Health Committee is expected to help craft legislation designed to expand health insurance coverage. Lawmakers are eager to get Daschle's perspective.
Daschle has made it clear in the past year that he believes Congress needs to move fast on health legislation, and Kennedy has that same viewpoint, as his staff has spent recent months meeting with various trade and interest groups that have much at stake in the coming debates.
Drawing on lessons learned in the past, Obama handed Daschle two prime jobs. Besides picking him as health and human services secretary, Daschle also will serve as director of a new White House office on health reform.
In previous administrations, the White House and not the Cabinet agency has led attempts to expand coverage.
Most analysts expect Daschle will have little problem winning confirmation as HHS secretary. Kennedy's spokesman, Anthony Coley, said the senator considers Daschle "the right man to help the Obama administration and this Congress bring about the real and lasting reform our health care system desperately needs."
Daschle, from South Dakota, is one of the longest-serving Democratic leaders in the Senate's history and the only one to serve twice as both majority and minority leader.