Senate Finance Committee Votes 15-8 To Endorse Sebelius as HHS Secretary
The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 15-8 to endorse Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as HHS secretary, the Wall Street Journal reports (Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 4/22). The vote was along party lines, with Democrats voting for approval and Republicans against, except for Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) (Edney, CongressDaily, 4/21).
Committee Republicans who voted against Sebelius said they did not support her as HHS secretary because of her pro-choice record and her support of some of the Obama administration's plans to overhaul the U.S. health care system. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he voted against Sebelius because he believes the Obama administration will use comparative effectiveness research to deny certain treatments (Connolly, Washington Post, 4/22). A spokesperson for committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the lawmaker was concerned about "a lack of candor" by Sebelius over political contributions from George Tiller, a Kansas physician who performs abortions (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 4/22).
Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he would push for an expedient confirmation of Sebelius "so that she can finally roll up her sleeves and get down to helping out on this critical work of reforming the health care system" (Phillips, "The Caucus," New York Times, 4/21). Baucus said, "Too many families and businesses are hurting as a result of the health care crisis, and I believe Gov. Sebelius is the right person to help create a lower-cost, higher-quality health care system that Americans need" (Goldstein, McClatchy/Kansas City Star, 4/21).
According to a senior Democratic Senate aide, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to schedule a full Senate confirmation vote for later this week (Lengell, Washington Times, 4/22). Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Reid, said that the lawmaker hopes to hold a confirmation vote on Sebelius "as soon as possible." According to CQ Today, the timing is dependent on how active Republicans are in attempting to delay her confirmation (Wayne, CQ Today, 4/21).
According to The Hill, Sebelius' confirmation "seems assured" despite the ability of any Republican senator to enact a "hold" on the process (Young, The Hill, 4/21). The Obama administration on Tuesday released a statement expressing confidence that Sebelius' nomination quickly will move through the Senate (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/21).
The mostly party-line vote on Sebelius' confirmation could be an indication that debate over health care reform this summer might be heavily partisan, Roll Call reports. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of the vote, "It's an ominous signal of the level of cooperation we can expect from the Republicans on health care," adding, "Maybe the Republicans are telling us they want us to pass health care reform through the budget reconciliation process."
An aide to senior GOP leaders said, "The vote says to Democrats that you have Republicans that believe health care needs to be bipartisan," adding, "The vote outcome reflected that Republican concern." A Senate Democratic aide said, "It was a surprisingly partisan vote," adding, "I don't see any reason why they voted against her, other than that she is the face of the administration's stance on health care reform."
According to Roll Call, the partisan nature of the vote suggests that Sebelius "will not have a mandate" while attempting to push health reform legislation through Congress this year (Brady, Roll Call, 4/22).