- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won Senate committee approval as health and human services secretary Tuesday despite opposition from Republicans critical of her ties to a late-term abortion doctor.

The Finance Committee voted 15 to 8 to send the Kansas Democrat’s nomination to the full Senate for a final vote. Sebelius wasn’t present the day before when President Barack Obama held his first formal Cabinet meeting.

“Gov. Sebelius strongly shares the president’s commitment to high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans and if confirmed, will work to bring down the crippling cost of health care and expand coverage,” White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said after the vote. “We are pleased that she was confirmed by the Finance Committee this morning and look forward to a vote before the full Senate.”

Timing on that was uncertain though Democrats hoped to move swiftly.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman, said he would “push for immediate action by the full Senate so that she can finally roll up her sleeves and get down to helping out on this critical work of reforming the health care system.”

The committee vote came after several Republicans voiced concerns in recent days about Sebelius’ ties to Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion doctor who is under investigation by the Kansas medical board.

The GOP also questioned her commitment to ensuring that the government doesn’t try to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

“I believe in the right of every American to choose the doctor, the hospital, the health plan of his or her choice,” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said before the vote. But he contended that Sebelius had displayed “insufficient commitment to these principles.”

Sebelius had offered assurances that she believed it was the job of doctors, not the government, to prescribe care. That wasn’t enough for some GOP lawmakers worried that the Obama administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s costly health care system could move the country toward a government-operated health care system.

Sebelius was Obama’s second choice for health secretary after his first pick _ former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle _ withdrew in February over unpaid taxes.

The Republican defections could make it more difficult for Sebelius to lead on President Barack Obama’s promises to bring down health costs and extend care to some 50 million uninsured Americans.

Only two of 10 Finance Committee Republicans supported Sebelius. They were Sen. Pat Roberts from her home state of Kansas, and moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Some GOP senators expressed concerns about Sebelius’ inaccurate response to the committee about how much campaign money she got from Tiller. She told the committee in written responses after her confirmation hearing this month that Tiller had given her $12,450 between 1994 and 2001.

She revised that response after an Associated Press review showed that Tiller and his abortion clinic donated an additional $23,000 between 2000 and 2002 to a political action committee Sebelius established to raise money for fellow Democrats. Sebelius apologized and called it an inadvertent omission.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Monday that Sebelius initially “seemed to be a qualified candidate for the job.”

“However, after learning about her inexplicable omission of donations from the late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, I have to reevaluate my support for her nomination,” said Hatch.

Sebelius, 60, is a popular two-term Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state.

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