Senate to Vote on Sebelius’ HHS Nomination

Ryan Byrnes | April 28, 2009 | 9:39am EDT
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Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. (AP photo)

( - The U.S. Senate begins debate Tuesday morning in advance of an expected vote later in the day on whether to confirm Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Department Health and Human Services, nearly two months after President Obama announced the Kansas governor as his choice for the position.
Since her nomination, Senate Republicans have challenged Sebelius on her plans for health reform, and the Kansas governor has also come under fire for her support of abortion rights and her alleged ties to third-term abortionist George Tiller.
The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) confirmed that a vote will take place Tuesday, but due to an agreement between Reid and Republicans, 60 votes will be needed for confirmation instead of the usual simple majority.
Obama nominated Sebelius on March 2, and the Senate Finance Committee approved the nomination with a 15-8 vote on April 21. The vote went almost exclusively along party lines, with only two Republican senators – Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) – voting for the nominee.
Reid pushed for a vote Thursday night, two days after the committee vote, but Republican senators demanded more time. Reid told reporters Thursday night that he was “concerned” with the length of time the confirmation was taking.
Obama’s original nominee for the HHS position, Tom Daschle, withdrew in early February because of the disclosure that he owed more than $140,000 in unpaid taxes. 
During Sebelius' confirmation hearings, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said they opposed having health-care reform achieved during the budget reconciliation process, where debate on the issue would be limited.
Enzi said he also voted against Sebelius because of her own past tax issues. Craig Orfield, communications director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told that Enzi’s decision was based on a number of factors related to Sebelius’ financial past.
“Governor Sebelius inaccurately reported campaign contribution information to the Senate Finance Committee,” Orfield told in an email. “Like many of this administration’s nominees, Governor Sebelius also had problems with her taxes, having claimed improper deductions and then needing to correct years worth of tax returns and pay thousands of dollars in back taxes.
“When questioned by Sen. Enzi regarding her views on using a budget process loophole to force administration health care policies through the Congress without opportunity for minority party input, she maintained this was a perfectly acceptable option.
“All these reasons added up to a ‘no’ vote,” Orfield said.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) voted against Sebelius at a Senate Finance Committee hearing because he said he opposes her approach to health-care reform, specifically her support for comparative effectiveness research. 
“[Kathleen Sebelius] left me with no assurance that HHS, federal health-care programs, or any new entity – such as the Federal Coordinating Council – will not use comparative effectiveness research as a tool to deny care,” Kyl said in a statement. “And this should be a matter of concern to all of us.”
The stimulus bill passed in February devoted $1.1 billion to the HHS to fund such comparative effectiveness research, which examines the cost-effectiveness of various medical treatments for diseases. The Obama administration claims the research will help doctors and patients avoid ineffective treatments, while opponents say the research would be used to determine coverage decisions and would lead to Americans no longer being able to choose their own health plan.
“No Washington bureaucrat should interfere with that right or substitute the government’s judgment for that of a physician,” Kyl said. “I will oppose Governor Sebelius’ nomination because of her insufficient commitment to these principles.”
Sebelius has also faced criticism for her ties to late-term abortionist George Tiller as well as her vetoes of pro-life legislation. The Kansas governor vetoed at least five forms of abortion legislation since 2003, including a 2007 bill that would have required specific medical reasons for late-term abortions.
The Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative group, said it believes that Tiller may have donated as much as $200,000 to Sebelius’ campaign for governor, though FRC Vice President of Government Affairs Tom McClusky said the paper trail on the donations is “difficult to trace.”

However, McClusky said FRC is also concerned that more senators have not taken note of Sebelius’ track record of vetoing legislation that “would have hurt Tiller and helped women and children.”
“The explanation was given that it would just be better to get her out of Kansas, but now the whole nation has to deal with her,” McClusky told “Too many senators have put political considerations over actual policy.”
The Senate floor opened for eight hours of debate beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
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