Thursday, February 19, 2009

HHS Secretary Sebelius? It Might Spark a Fight

What we've been telling you for some time is now official: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is the front-runner to replace Tom Daschle as the nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services under President Obama.

At least, it is as official as these things get: unnamed "advisers" confirmed to the New York Times that she is the leading candidate.

In Washington, DC and other world capitals, this is what is known as a trial balloon. Get the name out there and make sure you have a chance to weigh any vigorous objections before you make the nomination official. The Administration has to make sure it knows the landscape, especially after the collapse of the Daschle nomination threw the White House's carefully crafted plan to launch the health care reform debate into disarray.

Here's the hitch: If the goal is to pick someone who can sail through to confirmation without a fight, it may turn out that Sebelius is not the perfect choice. As we noted, Sebelius is likely to stir up passionate opposition from pro-life members of the Senate.

The Times explains the issue well:
One issue that could draw attention is her stance on abortion. A Roman Catholic who says abortion is wrong, Ms. Sebelius vetoed a bill requiring clinics to report information on why a late-term abortion was performed, drawing the condemnation of the archbishop of Kansas City, Kan.
With that in mind, it can't be a good sign for Sebelius that the Pope himself just issued a statement affirming the view that Catholic politicians are morally obliged to work to end abortion. That was a direct slap at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, herself a Catholic, who met with Pope Benedict on February 18. (Reuters has the story here.)

But it doesn't seem like a stretch to see the statement as a call to action against Sebelius, who as HHS secretary would oversee everything from stem cell research to regulation of RU-486 to the use of public funds for family planning services.

Stay tuned....

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