Amid Health Scare, Senate Set to Confirm Sebelius As Health Secretary

April 28, 2009 - 4:47 AM
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Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, testifies on Capitol Hill on April 2, 2009. (AP File Photo/Susan Walsh)

Washington (AP) - The Senate was set to approve President Barack Obama's nominee for health and human services secretary Tuesday, giving the agency a leader in the midst of the swine flu outbreak.
 
Morning debate and an afternoon vote were scheduled to confirm Kathleen Sebelius, the two-term Democratic governor of Kansas. She was expected to get the 60 votes needed in the Democratic-led Senate, though perhaps with little margin to spare.
 
Anti-abortion groups have been lobbying Republican senators to vote against Sebelius, criticizing her stances on abortion and her ties to a late-term abortion doctor who donated to her campaigns. Sebelius initially underreported to senators the size of those donations, though she apologized and said it was an inadvertent error.
 
If she's confirmed, Sebelius would have an immediate challenge because of the swine flu outbreak. With no HHS secretary in place, the White House has turned to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to help lead its response, even while insisting that vacancies at the top of HHS were not a problem.
 
Sebelius would be the first of 20 HHS officials requiring Senate approval to clinch her job, so she'd be getting to work without much of a team.
 
The Senate hasn't acted on Obama's nominees for deputy HHS secretary or commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Obama hasn't even nominated people for other key jobs, including surgeon general and assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
 
The whole process was set back when Obama's first pick for HHS secretary, former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, withdrew in February over unpaid taxes. Sebelius is the last of Obama's Cabinet nominees awaiting confirmation.