HHS Nominee Sebelius Faces Senators - NBC New York

HHS Nominee Sebelius Faces Senators



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    Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius begins her confirmation hearings Tuesday.

    President Barack Obama's second choice for Health and Human Services secretary is getting ready to make her Senate debut.

    Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is expected to get a friendly reception from the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. It was unclear whether the committee chairman, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who's been battling brain cancer, would preside.

    Sebelius' appearance comes nearly two months after Obama's first choice for HHS secretary, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, withdrew from consideration while apologizing for failing to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.

    Since then, some battle lines have been drawn over Obama's push to overhaul the nation's health care system to cover 48 million uninsured Americans.

    Daschle was supposed to lead that effort as HHS secretary and head of the White House Office for Health Reform. When he dropped out of consideration the job was split up and a separate White House health czar was named.

    Sebelius would still play a major role in health legislation efforts and can expect senators to seek her views. Her background on health care includes blocking an insurance company merger in Kansas while insurance commissioner in 2001.

    Sebelius, 60, a Democrat, used that victory as a central component in her campaign for governor the next year, casting herself as a staunch consumer advocate.

    The health committee won't actually vote on sending Sebelius' nomination to the full Senate. That job falls to the Senate Finance Committee, which will hold Sebelius' confirmation hearing Thursday.

    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a Finance Committee member, said Sebelius faces "a two-part drill" this week and predicted "a very positive reaction in both committees and rapid confirmation."

    "I don't see any show-stopper issues on the horizon," said Wyden.

    Wyden said he expects Sebelius to face questions about her views on abortion. Anti-abortion groups are strongly opposed to Sebelius, a Roman Catholic who supports abortion rights. She vetoed several bills in Kansas to impose new restrictions on abortion providers or regulations on clinics. Just Friday, though, she signed legislation that ensures that women and girls seeking abortions are allowed to see ultrasound images or hear their fetus' heartbeat before the procedure.

    "My sense is she has strong personal views, but has worked hard to make abortion as rare as possible," said Wyden.

    The Health and Human Services Department oversees the giant Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs for the elderly, poor and disabled, and also includes the Food and Drug Administration. The department has a budget of more than $700 billion and a work force of more than 65,000 people.