WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Senate committee this week approved the nomination of a state governor who will spearhead the Obama administration’s effort to overhaul the U.S. health care system, a key objective in the president’s first term of office.
The Finance Committee voted 15 to 8 Tuesday to send the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be health and human services secretary to the full Senate for a final vote.
“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.”
The committee vote came after several Republicans voiced concerns about Sebelius’ ties to a late-term abortion doctor in her home state. The Republicans also questioned her commitment to ensuring that the government does not try to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
Sebelius was Obama’s second choice for health secretary after his first pick – former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle – withdrew over unpaid taxes.
The Republican defections could make it more difficult for Sebelius to shepherd President Barack Obama’s ambitious plans to overhaul the U.S. health care system. Nearly 50 million Americans do not have health care insurance.
Some Republican senators expressed concerns about Sebelius’ inaccurate response to the Finance Committee about how much campaign money she got from Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor who is under investigation by Kansas’ medical board over late-term procedures he performed.
Sebelius told the committee in written responses after her confirmation hearing this month that Tiller had given her $12,450 between 1994 and 2001.
She was forced to revise that response after an Associated Press review showed that Tiller and his abortion clinic donated an additional $23,000 between 2000 and 2002 to a political action committee Sebelius established to raise money for fellow Democrats. Sebelius apologized and called it an oversight.
Sebelius, 60, is a popular two-term Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state.
Sebelius had tax problems as well. Prior to her confirmation hearing, she corrected three years’ worth of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes to fix improper deductions.