Fourteen years after failing to deliver health reform for her husband’s White House, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will play a key role in advancing the issue in 2009 — if she remains in the Senate.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) designated Clinton to head a task force to develop a Senate Democratic proposal to expand health insurance coverage as part of his larger push to move a major overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system next year.

Kennedy’s designation of Clinton as one of three senators to lead a healthcare task force provides her with an opportunity to make a significant contribution to an issue that has defined her political career.

Clinton, however, may have her sights on foreign policy, not domestic concerns. She is reportedly under consideration to serve as President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of State, a position that would take her out of the healthcare debate.

Clinton is a junior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Kennedy chairs, but has been a prominent Democratic voice on healthcare issues dating back to President Clinton’s first term, when she led the administration’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to reform healthcare.

Were Clinton to remain in Congress, there are no clear avenues for her to assume a formal leadership position or chair a committee.

Being given a influential position on health reform may serve as some consolation, and expanding healthcare coverage is arguably the most important and contentious component of the Democratic health reform platform.

During the primary campaign, Clinton and Obama frequently clashed over healthcare. The biggest point of dissension was whether individuals should be required by law to obtain some form of health coverage: Clinton said yes, Obama said no.

Kennedy and his aides have repeatedly indicated that they will base their legislation on Obama’s health plan, but they not have not disclosed whether the bill would include such a mandate. Despite Obama’s position during the campaign, he would be unlikely to oppose a major Democratic healthcare bill on that point alone.

Kennedy also assigned Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to lead the committee’s efforts on prevention and public health and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to tackle healthcare quality.

“Our committee is fortunate to have the services of major leaders who are committed to improving healthcare for the American people. Sen. Harkin, Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Clinton have generously offered to step forward and assume an expanded role on critical aspects of health reform,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who controls a large portion of the jurisdiction over health reform in the Senate, issued a white paper laying out options for health reform, which include an individual mandate. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another key lawmaker on health issues, is the author of a bipartisan bill that also has a mandate.

Source: The Hill

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