Sebelius clears Senate panel

HHS nominee faced wary GOP

The Associated PressApril 22, 2009 

— Kathleen Sebelius won Senate committee approval as health secretary over Republican opposition Tuesday, putting her on track for a final Senate vote in coming days.

Her expected confirmation would complete President Barack Obama's Cabinet. Sebelius was not present for the first formal Cabinet meeting Monday.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-8 in favor of sending the nomination of Kansas' two-term Democratic governor to the full Senate. Just two of 10 committee Republicans joined majority Democrats in voting "yes," signaling GOP concerns over Sebelius' ties to a Kansas abortion doctor, as well as some broader skepticism about Obama's health care plans.

But the partisan vote sparked an angry response from one committee Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

"I was surprised by the fact that so few Republicans supported a moderate, qualified candidate like Gov. Sebelius," Schumer said. "It's an ominous signal of the level of cooperation we can expect from the Republicans on health care."

Schumer then suggested that the vote was an invitation for Democrats to pass health care legislation using a controversial parliamentary maneuver that would pre-empt Republicans from mounting a filibuster to block passage.

Republicans have said such an approach would poison attempts to get a bipartisan deal on one of Obama's top priorities: reshaping the health care system to reduce costs and cover 50 million uninsured Americans.

"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.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he expected a vote in the full Senate within the week.

Sebelius was Obama's second pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services after his first choice -- former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle -- withdrew in February over unpaid taxes.

Sebelius, 60, would oversee a sprawling agency with 65,000 employees, a $750 billion budget and responsibility for the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs for the elderly, disabled and poor -- among others.

The committee vote came after several Republicans voiced concerns about Sebelius' initial failure to disclose to senators the full extent of campaign donations she got from Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion doctor who is under investigation by the Kansas medical board. .

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