President-elect Barack Obama has gone ahead with previously announced efforts to nominate former Sen. Thomas Daschle to be secretary of Health and Human Services.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who served as Senate majority leader, is “known for speaking softly but acting boldly,” Obama said today at a press conference announcing the nomination. “He knows how to build consensus across the aisle. And he has the trust of folks from every angle of this issue: doctors, nurses and patients; workers and businesses; hospitals and consumer groups–all of whom will have a seat at the table as we work on this vital issue.”

In addition to leading the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Daschle is set to become director of a new White House Office on Health Reform, officials say.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, has welcomed news of Daschle’s HHS nomination.

The nomination “signals that the incoming administration intends to prioritize comprehensive health care reform,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni says in a statement. “Senator Daschle is exceptionally well qualified to bring people together in support of universal coverage, cost-containment, and improved quality.”

Daschle is asking Americans to hold local discussions about health reform sometime between Dec. 15 and Dec. 31 and to report the results to the Obama transition team’s health policy team.

“The team will then incorporate the results into its recommendations for the Obama-Biden administration,” officials say.

Daschle said he plans to attend some of the health reform meetings in person.

“We’ll provide you with a special moderator kit that will give you everything you need to get the discussion going,” transition team officials say in an explanation of the health reform discussion program posted on the Web.

The discussion leader Web forum asks would-be leaders questions such as, “What are the major areas you want to discuss?” and “Why should the health policy team send Senator Daschle to your event?”