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Senate Approves Sebelius for HHS Post

The Senate voted 65-31 to confirm Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary on Tuesday evening, filling the last vacancy in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

Sebelius’ nomination passed the Senate with the lowest vote total of any of Obama’s Cabinet picks. The tepid support signals a showdown on health care reform later this year, GOP aides said.

Democrats, however, say the two-term governor from Kansas will play a key role in brokering deals on a comprehensive bill that could be marked up this June.

“For the last six years, [Sebelius] has served as the Democratic Governor of a bright red state,— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “One doesn’t succeed — let alone get re-elected — in that environment without knowing how to put people ahead of partisanship.—

Sebelius’ confirmation vote came as the Finance Committee — which last week approved her nomination on a 15-8 vote — released a list of broad policy options that could be included in a comprehensive health care bill. Some options include providing primary care practitioners with a Medicare payment bonus and improving health technology.

A former insurance commissioner, Sebelius’ confirmation kicks off a busy spring and summer on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as leaders push health care to center stage.

“Congress needs a strong partner at HHS to pass comprehensive health reform,— Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “We’re developing a framework that will change how health care is delivered. But we need a first-class secretary and team at HHS to help get reform off the ground.—

Sebelius was nominated on Feb. 28 by Obama to fill the HHS post after former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination for the post amid revelations that he owed more than $100,000 in back taxes.

Sebelius was widely hailed on both sides of the aisles and had the support of home-state Sens. Sam Brownback (R) and Pat Roberts (R).

But her support of abortion rights cost her the backing of many Republicans, and her nomination was briefly shaken — although not threatened — when it was discovered that she had more than $8,000 in misfiled taxes and received campaign donations from a doctor who has performed late-term abortions.

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