- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Senate is expected Tuesday to approve President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, which would bolster the administration’s leadership during its first public-health crisis — the swine flu outbreak.

The hearings continued Tuesday afternoon for nominee Kathleen Sebelius, the Democratic governor of Kansas, and a final vote is expected by tonight.

Mrs. Sebelius is expected to get the minimum 60 votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate, despite opposition from anti-abortion groups, which have been lobbying Republican senators to reject the nomination.

The governor also faces opposition from Republican senators uncomfortable with inaccuracies in her response to the Senate Finance Committee about how much campaign money she received from Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan.-based doctor who performs abortions. He is under investigation by the state’s medical board regarding late-term procedures.

The flu outbreak started April 12 in Mexico, where it has killed at least 150 people and has spread to the United States and five other countries. There are 50 cases in the United States, but no deaths have been reported outside of Mexico.

The Obama administration has largely relied on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as its public face in response to the outbreak.

Mrs. Sebelius is the last of the president’s Cabinet nominees awaiting confirmation, but just one of roughly 15 top HHS staff positions still requiring Senate approval.

The president — is his first 99 days at the White House — has a total of about 20 top-level staffers to appoint, including several at the Department of Homeland Security.

The Senate has yet to act on Mr. Obama’s nominees for deputy HHS secretary and Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Cabinet confirmations require only Senate approval.

The president has not named a nominee for surgeon general, nor a director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The acting CDC director is Dr. Richard Besser, who has held daily press conferences since the first cases of the flu virus in the U.S. were reported over the weekend.

Mr. Obama’s first choice for HHS secretary, former Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, withdrew his nomination in February over unpaid taxes.

Mrs. Sebelius has had her own income-tax problems. She recently corrected three years of tax returns and paid $7,000 in back taxes for what she called “unintentional errors.” The mistakes were related to business expenses, the sale of a home and charitable contributions, including those from Dr. Tiller.

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