- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s choice for Health and Human Services secretary, faced no questions about her tax problems while testifying at a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, a hint that the issue will not derail her nomination.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee instead peppered Mrs. Sebelius with nuts-and-bolts queries about how she would oversee a department responsible for major entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

Mrs. Sebelius told the committee that implementing the president’s health care reform goals this year would be her primary “mission” if confirmed.

“We face a health system that burdens families, businesses and government budgets with skyrocketing costs,” she said. “Action is not a choice; it’s a necessity.”

A final confirmation vote on the nomination will have to wait until after the upcoming two-week congressional recess, after at least one Republican senator objected to a quick floor vote, Senate Democrats said Thursday. It was not clear if the objection was over policy or over the expedited vote schedule.

Mrs. Sebelius said Americans have a personal responsibility for staying healthy and that she would stress preventive medicine if confirmed.

“We cannot achieve our ultimate goal - a healthier nation - unless we shift away from a sick-care system,” she said. “We pay for emergencies, not the care that prevents them.”

Mrs. Sebelius appeared to be on a relatively smooth path to confirmation until late Tuesday, when the administration revealed that she had failed to pay $7,000 in taxes on time.

The news broke almost two months after Mr. Obama’s first choice to head the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) - former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle - withdrew after reports that he failed to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.

Mrs. Sebelius said her tax violations were the result of “unintentional errors” that were related to mistakes resulting from the sale of a home and charitable contributions.

Finance Committee members of both parties quickly came to Mrs. Sebelius’ defense this week and defused a potentially fatal blow to her nomination.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and committee chairman, said Mrs. Sebelius was “the right person for the job.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters Wednesday that Mrs. Sebelius made a “good-faith effort” to pay her taxes correctly and errors discovered in a recent review should not count against her.

Mrs. Sebelius said she strongly supports the Obama administration’s proposal to create a Medicare-style government-run health insurance option that would compete with private plans. “Competition works far better in most instances than heavy regulation,” she said.

Another topic not discussed during Thursday’s hearing was the governor’s support of abortion rights, but she significantly lowered the volume on the abortion debate last week when she signed a Kansas state bill requiring medical clinics to allow women seeking abortions a chance to see ultrasound images of the fetus or hear its heartbeat before performing the procedure.

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