- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s pick to head the Health and Human Services Department, became the latest in a string of Cabinet appointees with income-tax problems Tuesday.

Mrs. Sebelius recently corrected three years of tax returns and paid $7,000 in back taxes for “unintentional errors,” which she revealed to senators in a letter dated Tuesday that the administration released.

The mistakes were related to business expenses, the sale of a home and charitable contributions, she said.

Hours before the letter was made public, Mrs. Sebelius testified before one of the two Senate panels vetting her confirmation.

The news came almost two months after Mr. Obama’s first choice for the health and human services post, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, withdrew after reports that he failed to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, whose panel has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Mrs. Sebelius for Thursday, quickly defended the nominee.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Governor Sebelius has the political experience, determination, and bipartisan work ethic to get the job done with Congress this year,” the Montana Democrat said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening. “She’s the right person for the job, and I look forward to hearing from her at the Finance Committee’s hearing on Thursday.”

The Senate Finance Committee has the final say in sending the Mrs. Sebelius’ nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

An administration official said Mrs. Sebelius filed the amended tax returns before documents formalizing her nomination were sent to the Finance Committee, according to the Associated Press. She then advised the committee of the mistakes, and senators requested an explanation, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

In a letter to Mrs. Sebelius dated Tuesday, Mr. Baucus and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, wrote that they had reviewed the three years of amended returns and “no additional items were identified that needed to be addressed.”

On Tuesday, the governor told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that if confirmed, she would work quickly to implement Mr. Obama’s health care reform, including a government-run insurance option to compete with private plans.

“Inaction is not an option,” she said. “The status quo is unacceptable and is unsustainable.”

The Democratic governor faced a mostly friendly panel of questioners, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the panel’s chairman, who opened the hearing by speaking about his own medical struggles.

“Over the past 10 months, I’ve benefited from the best of medicine, but we have too many uninsured Americans,” said the Massachusetts Democrat, who is battling brain cancer. “We have sickness care and not health care. We have too much bureaucracy.”

Mrs. Sebelius said that fixing inefficiencies in the health care system is inseparably linked to improving the nation’s slumping economy. “Our current economic crisis presents the inevitability that we cannot wait,” she said.

She said she also would work to restore public trust in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has been shaken in recent years after several high-profile cases of food contamination and the agency’s approval of drugs later found to have fatal side effects.

Responding to calls from some lawmakers to split the FDA into two agencies, Mrs. Sebelius said, “Step one is restoring FDA as a world-class regulatory agency.” She added, though, that a “new platform” is needed for food-safety regulation that includes a more collaborative effort with the food industry.

Questioned by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, Mrs. Sebelius said she supports the president’s desire to give Americans the option of government-run health insurance as an alternative to private coverage - one of the most contentious issues in the health care debate. But she opposed a total government takeover of the health insurance industry.

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