Daschle: Supreme Court will 'make history' with health care ruling

Former South Dakota Senator and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle

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Jeremy Hobson: As we await the Supreme Court's big decision on health care, we've got a key player in federal health care policy with us to discuss: Sen. Tom Daschle. He is the former Senate majority leader and now is a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, and he joins us from Washington. Good morning.

Tom Daschle: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: First of all, what do you think is going to happen? What will the Supreme Court decide on health care?

Daschle: Well we know this: They'll make history. And we know also that they're going to have a huge impact today with whatever decision they make on the way health care's provided in our country for years and years to come. Beyond that, it's almost impossible to predict.

Hobson: Well let's go with one possibility, then, and see what would happen next. Obviously, if they say that it is constitutional, then we know what happens. If they say that part of it or all of it is not constitutional, what is the next step for health care reform in that case?

Daschle: There's a number of things, frankly. It's still going to be a matter of public policy, so you're going to see the Congress involved. Obviously, between now and the election, I don't think much is going to get done. You're going to see hyperbolic rhetoric -- probably on both sides -- but certainly some claiming victory and some vowing to continue. But beyond that, you've still got a good deal of power within the administration and within the Department of Health and Human Services to carry out a number of proposals. You also will have a significant amount of additional activity at the state level. All those levels will continue to play out.

Hobson: Do you think that there will be -- let's say that it's declared unconstitutional -- do you think that there is going to be another move? Let's say President Obama gets re-elected with a Democratic Congress to spend a year putting together a new health care reform package?

Daschle: I don't know that there's going to be the kind of consensus around a new proposal that quickly. Ultimately, I think what you're going to see is that Congress is going to move away from the commerce clause to their taxing authority. They've already mandated two things under their taxing authority: they've mandated retirement insurance through Social Security, and they actually have mandated Medicare health insurance through Medicare Part A. So we've mandated on the other side, and that's never really been seriously challenged. So my guess is, ultimately, you're going to see the Congress move in that direction.

Hobson: Do you think it was a mistake then not to use that same authority to mandate people buying health insurance, and instead use the commerce clause?

Daschle: From a constitutional point of view, we'll know today. But I don't know that we'll know anything more than that. Obviously, it was a safer move. Whether it was the right move, only the Supreme Court will now tell us.

Hobson: There are certain parts of the health care reform law that have already gone into effect, like allowing kids to stay on their parents' health insurance until the age of 26. Are there other parts of the law, do you think, that would have made it more popular with the American people if they had already gone into effect instead of waiting until 2014 in some cases?

Daschle: I think if we could have created the exchanges ahead of time, where people could see on a much more graphic and personal way what this meant for them, in terms of their ability to buy insurance and in terms of the subsidies that many middle-class subscribers would be eligible for. If those things had kicked in earlier, there's no question in my mind that they too would be very popular and the tone would have been different. It takes a while, and I think there are good reasons why they had to be delayed, but clearly -- the more people know, the more people like and that will continue for as long as this legislation is on the books.

Hobson: When you look at the polls, this law is not very popular in any of them. How do you think that happened? How did this law -- which was aimed at helping the American people get health insurance -- become so unpopular?

Daschle: Well I think first of all, it became heavily politicized and because it became so politicized, it became a Republican/Democratic thing right out of the box, so there you lose half. Then you've got a tremendous amount of effort on the part of many of the conservative media -- Fox News and the radio pundits -- they have all chipped in. And finally, you've got the arbiter of credibility, the judges themselves. Some very conservative judges declaring this unconstitutional. That three-step process had a lot to do with people's perceptions changing dramatically over the last couple of years.

Hobson: Is there any difference between that politicization of this and the politicization of just about everything these days? I mean, everything becomes right and left.

Daschle: No, unfortunately our country is very, very polarized today, and the Congress reflects that, this campaign for president reflects it. And certainly even perhaps the Supreme Court decision could reflect it -- I hope not.

Hobson: I saw that you had written that one idea to reduce the polarization in Washington is to have lawmakers actually spend more time there rather than less so that they can hang out with each other and become friends.

Daschle: Well Jeremy, the problem today is, in many respects, the airplane has allowed people to leave on Thursdays and come back on Tuesdays. One thing that's hard to do is govern an entire country on Wednesdays, so that's part of the problem. But also because you don't know one another, you don't build the kind of relationships. If you don't build the relationships, you don't really have the kind of trust. If you don't have the trust, you don't have the environment for real legislative agreement and common ground.

Hobson: You were the leader of the U.S. Senate in a very amazing moment of bipartisan unity right after 9/11. How do you think that we lost that so quickly?

Daschle: I think a couple of things. One, the party -- especially the Republican Party -- became far more ideological and that created more of a chasm. You just had a very significant series of confluences, including just this extraordinary change in the way we raise money -- the super PACs and all of the incredible resources now dedicated to playing out the messages on both sides. But all of that has contributed. The media has changed. It used to be the media, in large measure, were referees. Now, in many cases, the media are participants, and because they're participants, they've added yet another edge to this chasm that creates so much more conflict than we saw earlier.

Hobson: What do you miss about your time in the public sector, if anything at this point? You've been in the private sector for a while.

Daschle: Well, to be honest, I miss the power. The senators have an enormous amount of power, probably second only to the president of the United States -- the power to do the kinds of things that you sought office to do. You miss that; you miss your relationships; you miss sometimes the excitement, the intensity. But there's a lot of nonsense you don't miss as well. So I'm perfectly content to be where I am.

Hobson: Let me ask you one more thing: Where do you think the Obama administration made mistakes on health care reform and how they did it and whether they thought about, I guess, the constitutionality of it?

Daschle: I think the president did an outstanding job in getting this legislation passed into law -- nobody has done that in all of history. But where we could have done more -- and I include myself in this -- has been better messengers. Better people, advocates, after the law was enacted, to explain and describe. Now part of the reason for that is that most of the promotional, educational money was taken out in the name of bringing down the costs overall of the bill. But by and large, we let the other side define this legislation, and that was a huge mistake.

Hobson: And a lot of people on the left think that it wasn't strong enough.

Daschle: Well that's true. Was this the perfect bill from the perspective of most people? No. Did it go a long way to achieving what could be ultimately a far better health care delivery mechanism in our marketplace today? Absolutely. You never get to the very perfect description of legislation on the first round -- Social Security was that way, Medicare was that way. We're going to continue to see the evolution of health care, regardless.

Hobson: Sen. Tom Daschle, former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, now a senior policy adviser at the law firm DLA Piper. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Daschle: My pleasure, Jeremy.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

SCORECARD: Follow along with today's Supreme Court ruling with our Supreme Court Scorecard.

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