November 21, 2008
|We'll be seeing this face a lot|
Tom Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama's mild-mannered appointment for Health and Human Services Secretary, isn't the type of guy people often get excited about. But AIDS advocates have reason to be optimistic about the former Senate Majority Leader. Daschle has a solid record on AIDS, and is known for thinking rationally on syringe exchange and global AIDS.
He spoke about the need to increase global AIDS funding before it was hot, and while in the Senate had a record that was in step with the AIDS advocacy goals. Since his tenure, he's committed both to universal healthcare and fighting global AIDS.
Daschle is also a huge Obama fan. Not known for being a rabblerouser, he probably won't shift far from the president-elect's positions -- which isn't a bad thing as far as health care.
"Tom Daschle's a reasonable guy. He's thought deeply about health care, and I truthfully think he'll do the right thing," said AIDS Action Political Director Bill McColl.
Although Daschle's been a big supporter of global AIDS funding in recent years, he's been less outspoken about the domestic epidemic.
"We need to understand quickly what his thoughts are on national AIDS," said Julie Davids, senior policy consultant for the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Progect. "Will he support a PEPFAR-style approach to bringing in significant resources to the United States?"
As HHS Secretary, Daschle will have no oversight of foreign policy. He will, however, oversee the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and HRSA, as well as directing whatever healthcare reforms could occur.
During Daschle's time representing South Dakota in the Senate from 1987 to 2004, he wasn't particularly outspoken about AIDS issues, but his voting record was in line with the AIDS community.
In 1998, as a compromise against the ban on syringe exchange, then Sen. Daschle proposed a one-year moratorium on the federal ban. In 2001 he voted against prohibiting Washington, D.C. to fund needle exchange programs, which the House just voted for this year.
"I suspect Senator Daschle will faithfully come out in favor of Obama's plan," McColl said. Obama's policy positions on Change.gov specifically mention overturning the federal syringe exchange ban.
In 2002 Daschle supported funding to fight global AIDS before it was in vogue, calling on Bush to increase funding from $500 million to $2.5 billion.
Daschle said at the time that the resources Bush was willing to commit "fall far short of what is needed and far short of what I believe this great nation is capable of and should be doing."
Daschle also spoke out against AIDSphobic behavior. When Jerry Thacker, who called AIDS the "sin of homosexuality", applied to join the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) in 2003, Daschle responded, "Thacker's characterization of AIDS as the gay plague and his offensive public statements about homosexuality indicate a disturbing bias that is completely at odds with the role the advisory commission should play."
Daschle also used 9/11 for political advantage, but unlike Rudy Giuliani, he wasn't trying to promote himself. He was promoting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
"One of the heroes who defied the hijackers on Flight 93 was Mark Bingham, a gay man," Mr. Daschle said on the Senate floor. "His courage may have helped save this very building. This year, we should have the courage to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation."
Daschle also voted in favor of the Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorization each time it was voted on and even gave pork-barrel money to the South Dakota Department of Health to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
After he was voted out of the Senate in 2004, Daschle wrote the book Critical: What We Can Do about the Health-Care Crisis, in which he recommends creating an entity modeled after the Federal Reserve Board to oversee health care in the United States. Daschle is committed to expanding health care for all Americans. Back in 2004 he said, "We will work to lower the cost of health care. Every American should have the same health care options, the same price as members of Congress do. And we will work to provide every senior with a real prescription drug benefit that actually lowers costs to seniors instead of handing billions of dollars to big drug companies and the HMOs. We're going to do that."
On the global AIDS front, Daschle was involved with the One Campaign as national co-chair of ONE Vote '08, a voter advocacy project about global development issues.