HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Governor Sebelius is Nominee for Secretary of HHS

The New York Times reports that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has accepted President Obama's invitation to be his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Peter Baker writes,

President Obama asked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas on Saturday to become his nominee for secretary of health and human services, tapping a red state ally to help him push through his plan to remake the nation’s health care system.  Ms. Sebelius accepted the president’s offer and will be introduced by Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday, said administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the formal announcement. The selection comes just days before Mr. Obama hosts a health care summit meeting at the White House. . .

In selecting Ms. Sebelius, Mr. Obama has decided to risk running headlong into the nation’s volatile abortion wars. Since Ms. Sebelius’s name emerged as a leading candidate for the health job, anti-abortion groups have assailed her record and vowed to fight her confirmation.

Ms. Sebelius is Mr. Obama’s second choice to run the health department, following former Senator Tom Daschle, who withdrew his nomination amid a furor over his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes until his selection. Unlike Mr. Daschle, who had negotiated a dual-hat arrangement in which he would also be White House health czar, Ms. Sebelius would serve only in the cabinet. It remained unclear who might take over the White House position.

Although her main assignment would be running a large and complicated department with 65,000 employees, a $700 billion budget and involvement in everything from food safety to bioterrorism, Ms. Sebelius, if confirmed by the Senate, would presumably also be a key figure in the battle to extend health care coverage to more than 40 million uninsured people. . . .

Despite a record of working with Republicans in some areas, health care was one where she often had trouble forging bipartisan agreement. She tried raising cigarette taxes to pay for health care for the poor but was rebuffed by a Republican Legislature. She promoted universal health care but never reached that goal. And she proposed consolidating health care programs, but lawmakers made sure she could not control the new independent authority.

Abortion may prove a lightning rod in her confirmation. Ms. Sebelius, a Catholic, has repeatedly vetoed abortion regulations on legal or policy grounds. “Personally, I believe abortion is wrong,” she wrote in one veto message before explaining that she did not think the bill would reduce late-term abortions.

Ms. Sebelius has defended her record by pointing to adoption initiatives and falling abortion rates in Kansas, but the archbishop of Kansas City last year said she should not receive communion until repudiating her support for abortion rights. . . . has a brief overview of some of the challenges facing the Governor Sebelius if she receives confirmation as HHS Secretary.  More about Governor Sebelius can be found in the Washington Post story here.

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