Political News

Obama names Kan. governor as health chief

Posted March 2, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— A health care system overhaul, weak finances in Medicare, lapses in food safety. Those challenges and more await Kathleen Sebelius as President Barack Obama's health secretary.

Gaining confirmation from the Senate would be the Kansas governor's first hurdle. She has clashed with abortion opponents in the state, and they may try to carry the fight to Washington.

Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius Obama announces Kansas governor as health chief

Obama planned to introduce Sebelius on Monday as his nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Later this week he is to host lawmakers and representatives of major interest groups at a White House summit on health care reform.

On Sunday, Sebelius won praise from several Republican governors and from the chairman of the Senate panel that will handle her nomination.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Sebelius would make a "strong partner" in revamping the health care system and that she "really gets what needs to be done."

Republican Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Jon Huntsman of Utah also applauded her nomination.

Sebelius, 60, is seen as a steady hand, an experienced public official who knows how to work across political lines. As a former state insurance commissioner, she is unfazed by the complexities of health care and insurance issues.

But she represents Obama's backup plan.

Originally, the president had counted on former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to shepherd his health overhaul agenda through Congress.

Daschle would have worn two hats: health secretary and head of a White House health reform office. He was on a first-name basis with most senators, where health care legislation faces its stiffest test. Yet he dropped out of consideration after his failure to pay taxes on all his earnings came to light.

Sebelius knows some of the key players, but she will have to establish a working relationship with others. Obama plans to name a different person for the White House health care job, raising the prospect of tensions between that office and the health secretary's.

Kansas' two senators, both Republicans, offered words of praise.

"Obviously we will have different viewpoints than the administration on many issues including health care reform, especially given the huge price tag," said Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback. But despite "real concerns" about Obama's direction, they said they looked forward to being able to pick up the phone and talk directly with Sebelius about health care issues.

Brownback and Roberts could be allies in defusing any opposition to her nomination.

The health insurance industry and consumer groups have responded favorably to Sebelius' nomination.

Obama made his opening move on a health care overhaul last week with a speech to Congress and a budget that set aside $634 billion over 10 years as a down payment on coverage for all, a goal that could ultimately cost $1 trillion or more.

Obama outlined some general policies, such as putting the country on a path to cover all its citizens and preserving the employer role in providing health insurance. His budget also showed it will take tough choices on spending cuts and tax increases to pay for health care.

It will be up to Congress to turn those ideas into workable legislation. Baucus and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who leads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, say they want to present legislation by the summer.

Obama wants to expand coverage while slowing the rate of increase in costs. Administration officials say they are hoping that in the end that will lead to a more affordable system, without the coverage gaps that leave an estimated 48 million people uninsured.

But Republicans are concerned about the costs, and about giving government an even larger role in health care. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel signaled that the debate could get contentious.

Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Emanuel challenged Republicans to propose alternatives to Obama's health care plan, not just criticize it.

Health care "is a particular example where America's economic competitiveness, its strength around the world is sapped because we have a health care system that doesn't allow American workers and business to compete," Emanuel said. "And the Republicans will have an opportunity not just to criticize, but to propose."

Before health care legislation gets moving, Sebelius' attention may well be diverted by problems at the department. The administration will have to move quickly to name an FDA commissioner, a decision delayed by the difficulty in filling the health secretary's job.

A trustees' report due in the spring is expected to highlight the worsening condition of Medicare's finances, hammered by a drop in tax revenues because of the recession.


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  • alx Mar 3, 2009

    This woman is one of the biggest pro-abortion governors in the United States. Our nation will have the blood of innocent babies on our hands.

  • wildervb Mar 2, 2009

    Who ever said the Obama or the Democrats want to implement Canada's or the UK's system of health care, why should they. (Even though when people in those countries are polled, they're generally happy with the service they get)

    There are dozens of different models to learn from. Our health care system is ranked 37th by the World Health Organization, we can do far better than that. Republicans offered nothing, abosolutely nothing over the last 8 years. Why should we be happy with the most expensive system in the world? It makes our businesses less competitive, it ties people to jobs they may not like, it keeps small businesses from ever starting. We need to reform our system if we want to compete with the rest of the world.

    Of course any new system should concentrate on preventative care, and of course individuals should take better care of themselves. People like Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh are two prime examples of people who abuse our health care dollars.

  • affirmativediversity Mar 2, 2009

    Worland posted, "...I lived under socialized health care in Europe. It was horrible, and I can't believe anyone would want it here!"


    I lived under socialized health care too...both in the UK and Canada...and you are 100% correct!!!

    You only have watch one member of your family die a slow death from cancer because they were DENIED treatment because it WAS NOT COST EFFECTIVE...that's all it takes to be hardened AGAINST SOCIALIZED HEALTH CARE!!!!

    What do people think Obama's "Health Care Data Bank" is for??? Its so they "THE GOVERNMENT" can decide WHO GETS CARE and WHO IS NOT COST EFFECTIVE...!!!! People...OBAMA ADMITTED THAT'S WHAT THIS DATA BANK IS FOR!!!!!!!

  • Worland Mar 2, 2009

    This is the land of opportunity, not the land of entitlement. This is a country where anyone can become successful and wealthy. You are what YOU make of yourself. There are no excuses.

    The constitution guarantees you the "opportunity" to succeed. It does not guarantee you will succeed. It does not entitle you to a home you can't afford or health care paid by someone else. I haven't seen anything about a Nanny State that will provide for all your needs anywhere in the constitution.

    Do us all a favor and get your own health care. Take care of your body, don't smoke, don't eat too much and exercise. Stop going to the doctor for every fever or sniffle. That does nothing but clog an over-worked health care system with silly problems. Stop being a health care nightmare like Michael Moore and become a responsible citizen. OK?

  • Worland Mar 2, 2009

    The U.S. has the highest health care costs in the World, about $8,000 a year per person, because we are fat and unhealthy. Couple that with an attitude that people think they are entitled to health care, and you end up with the system we have today.

    I lived under socialized health care in Europe. It was horrible, and I can't believe anyone would want it here!

  • rajstapes Mar 2, 2009

    You are absolutely right seankelly 15!! It's very obvious that the people making comments on here do not like the new president. Don't waste your time responding to them. It's sad that they are using all their time and energy putting him down. But what good is it doing? He's still the president and there is nothing that they can do about it!! It's so strange how so many people have alternate opinions on how this country should be run, but didn't run for president!! At least Pesident Obama qualified!! Let them have their little fun putting him down because that makes them feel good. Meanwhile, we others that happen to like the new president, continue to support him in our prayers and thoughts!!

  • affirmativediversity Mar 2, 2009


    You just proved my point! Although, honestly I did not know Obama had ever worked on Wall Street...who did he work for Goldman Sachs or AIG? LOL! Did he work with Timothy Geithner? Maybe that's who he shared an apartment with, instead of that radical muslim guy???

    Please, Community Organizer??? He ripped people off, who really desparately needed help with housing, with his pretty rhetoric while punching his ticket within the Chicago Political Machine!

    A Professor at Chicago U??? Another, get over job while he punched his Chicago Political Machine ticket!

    Face it: It's all just a bunch of ELITIST SNOBBERY...and should not be confused with "WORK"!

  • bud797 Mar 2, 2009

    Has she paid her taxes ???

  • wildervb Mar 2, 2009

    "Obama hasn't done a real days work in years...and I venture to guess, in his entire life...BUT if you can find one (that is a real days work) I'll listen!"

    Well, I guess you don't count any of his elected jobs as jobs, or his teaching at Chicago U, or his work as an attorney, or his community organizing, or his book writing, I guess none of these are real jobs to you. What about his first job on Wall Street in the finacial industry, guess you didn't even know about that. There's a lot you can learn AffirmativeDiversity if you only took the time to read.

  • flyguync Mar 2, 2009

    "This is doomed from the get go, there will never be health reform in US as long as the Drugs companies are making over priced drugs."

    Once again, someone who only listens to media sound bites. Spending for prescription drugs is about 10% of the overall healthcare dollar. Read this: http://www.phrma.org/files/Prescription%20Medicine%20Spending%20Trends%202006%20FINAL.pdf

    Americans need to take responsibility for themselves, not expect a drug company to produce a free magic pill!