Senate To Vote on Gov. Sebelius as HHS Secretary Today
The Senate on Tuesday is expected to confirm Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as secretary of HHS, the AP/Miami Herald reports. A morning debate and afternoon vote were scheduled on the nomination. Sebelius is expected to receive the 60 Senate votes needed for confirmation, potentially with "little margin to spare" (Werner, AP/Miami Herald, 4/28).
Sebelius' nomination has been delayed because of Republican concern over her stance on abortion. However, supporters have said that the swine flu emergency makes an expedient confirmation vital (Adamy/Mundy, Wall Street Journal, 4/27).
William Pierce, who served as a spokesperson for former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, said, "In a situation like this, the HHS secretary becomes the top public health official in this country." He added, "Getting her in there is important. ... She will have to hit the ground running."
As HHS secretary, Sebelius would oversee several agencies, including CDC and NIH, which would play crucial roles in efforts to understand the strain of swine influenza and combat it in the event of an outbreak. In addition, Sebelius would coordinate HHS efforts with the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. She also would act as a liaison to health officials in all 50 states (Goldstein, Kansas City Star, 4/27).
The Service Employees International Union on Monday launched an online petition criticizing Republicans for delaying Sebelius' approval. On its Web site, SEIU wrote that if the Senate does not approve Sebelius, "the swine flu might just turn into another Hurricane Katrina" (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/27).
NPR's "Health & Science" on Tuesday reported on how delays in Sebelius' confirmation have held up the appointment of other HHS leaders and how the vacancies might affect the government's response to a public health emergency. The segment includes comments from Jeff Levi of Trust for America's Health and Eric Toner, a bioterrorist expert at the University of Pittsburgh (Rovner, "Health & Science," NPR, 4/28).