Senate approves Sebelius
President Obama’s Cabinet is finally fully stocked, as the Senate on Tuesday approved the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Health and Human Services Department, the last Cabinet vacancy.
Mrs. Sebelius’ confirmation bolsters the Obama administration’s bench as it confronts its first public health crisis - the swine flu outbreak that has rattled the nation’s collective nerves in recent days.
Democrats also are eager to get Mrs. Sebelius in place to help shepherd Mr. Obama’s overhaul of the nation’s health care system through Congress in the coming months.
Mrs. Sebelius was confirmed by a vote of 65-31, despite Republican objections to her support of abortion rights and concerns that she initially withheld information regarding her ties to a controversial Kansas abortion doctor.
No Democrats voted against Mrs. Sebelius, while nine Republicans supported her nomination.
“Her integrity is beyond reproach, her expertise is essential, and her confirmation is long overdue,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Her confirmation came about three 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.
Her confirmation also was praised by health care activists, who say her work as governor and as Kansas insurance commissioner improved the lot of the uninsured in her state.
But she was opposed by conservative and Christian groups, who rejected her strong pro-choice stance on abortion.
Many Republican senators also said they were uncomfortable with inaccuracies in her responses 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 Kansas’ medical board regarding late-term procedures.
The governor initially told the committee that Dr. Tiller had given her $12,450 between 1994 and 2001. She later amended that response after the Associated Press revealed that the doctor and his abortion clinic donated an additional $23,000 between 2000 and 2002 to a political action committee she created to raise money for fellow Democrats.
Mrs. Sebelius apologized and called it an oversight.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said he voted against the Sebelius confirmation because of her support of “comparative effectiveness” research - a federal program that sifts through millions of patient medical records to determine which medicines and treatments work best. The information then is made available to doctors and patients.
Many Republicans worry that the research could be used to ration health care and deny patients certain medical procedures or medicine.
“Governor Sebelius’ answers to my questions made clear that the administration and [the Department of] Health and Human Services, under her watch, would be unwilling to support pro-patient safeguards,” Mr. Kyl said.