The legislation actually barred funding for four so-called czars, or lead policy advisers, who did not receive Senate confirmation and were appointed to assist the president on healthcare, climate change, autos and manufacturing, and urban affairs. While other Obama czars—totaling 39, according to congressional Republican critics—were left untouched, the four banned czar posts are currently unoccupied.
The former health reform czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle, served as Obama's senior healthcare adviser and as director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform throughout the year-long legislative battle to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. After enactment, DeParle headed the White House's continuing effort to sell the controversial law to a divided public. Despite—or maybe because of—flat or declining public support for the law in the 10 months after Obama signed it, DeParle moved on to deputy chief of staff for policy in the administration.
So does the president's recent nose-thumbing at Congress regarding his czars mean a new healthcare czar—maybe one to push the president's high-profile, debt-related Medicare changes—is in the offing?
Not likely, said Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives from various parts of the healthcare system.
“Is it productive at this point or would it just be a distraction?” Grealy said in an interview this week, about the lightning rod ability of the office to draw controversy.
For now, the White House is not giving opponents a leading healthcare target.
An administration official noted that since the health reform office merged into the White House's Domestic Policy Council earlier this spring, it has technically fallen under Melody Barnes, DPC director and former healthcare aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). But Gene Sperling and Jason Furman at the National Economic Council also “play a leadership role” on healthcare. Other White House healthcare experts: Jeanne Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy and Liz Fowler, special assistant to the president for healthcare and economic policy.
So the signing statement rejecting Congress' directive on czars could amount more to asserting a principle—at least for now.
You can follow Rich Daly on Twitter @mhrdaly.