Sebelius and DeParle are the tag team for Obama’s most ambitious domestic policy goal: an overhaul of the nation’s health care system, which eluded President Clinton in 1994. The two “working moms,” in Sebelius’ words, are charged with chaperoning a measure through Congress that’s likely to cost more than $1 trillion when all is said and done.
“There’s a natural alliance,” Sebelius says of their relationship, built over a dozen years on topics ranging from the children’s health insurance program to raising their own children. She came to Washington in late April after serving as Kansas’ governor and insurance commissioner.
The president also has two pragmatists whose goal, like his, is to work with Congress rather than dictate to it. Given leeway, Congress is forging ahead with a goal of passing comprehensive legislation this year.
That means Sebelius and DeParle will be spending more time consulting with lawmakers in June and July as the bill gets written and pushed through as many as five committees. Their goal is to get something passed that includes Obama’s principles: expanded coverage, reduced costs, wider choice.
On the most controversial points, the two are willing to negotiate. They want a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers but say it doesn’t need to be a rigid, Medicare-like model. They want more employers to offer health insurance but have not insisted on a mandate. They want to cover more uninsured but have not dictated how many. They want to pay for the expansion but aren’t saying what taxes to raise or spending to cut.