WASHINGTON (AP) — 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, which held its first formal meeting Monday without Sebelius there.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 15 to 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 over Obama’s health care plans.
“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. “We are pleased that she was confirmed by the Finance Committee this morning and look forward to a vote before the full Senate.”
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he expected that would happen 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 in recent days 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. After the discrepancy became public, Sebelius called it an unintentional oversight and corrected the error.
The only senator to speak about Sebelius at Tuesday’s committee meeting raised a different concern. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., questioned Sebelius’ commitment to ensuring that the government doesn’t try to interfere in Americans’ health care choices.
“I believe in the right of every American to choose the doctor, the hospital, the health plan of his or her choice,” Kyl said. He contended that Sebelius had displayed “insufficient commitment to these principles.”
Sebelius had said that she didn’t believe it was the government’s role to dictate health care. But Kyl’s comments underscored GOP concerns as Congress gets to work on the Obama administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s $2.4 trillion health care system to bring down costs and extend care to 50 million uninsured Americans. Some Republicans fear a shift toward government-run health care.
The two Republicans who voted “yes” on Sebelius were Sen. Pat Roberts from her home state of Kansas, and moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.