WASHINGTON-The last remaining unconfirmed Cabinet post in the Obama administration is one step closer to being filled today after a Senate committee voted to endorse Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Despite increased pressure from pro-life groups to oppose her nomination, the Senate Finance Committee's 15-8 vote sends Sebelius to the full Senate for approval to head one of the largest federal government agency.
Sebelius has come under fire in recent days for misstating how much money she has received from a controversial provider of late-term abortions. But this did not prove to be enough to prevent Sebelius from receiving the committee's endorsement and the likely approval of the Democratic-led full Senate in the coming weeks.
However, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the divided vote showed that grassroots opposition to Sebelius is growing: "Questions continue to mount regarding her failure to disclose deep financial ties to late-term abortionist George Tiller. In the last few days, our supporters have sent nearly 40,000 emails to the Senate urging opposition to the Sebelius nomination."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the revelation that Sebelius received almost three times as much political money from Tiller than she originally revealed caused him to revaluate and ultimately oppose her nomination: "My strong beliefs in the sanctity of life simply made it impossible for me to support Gov. Sebelius' nomination."
Sebelius, in her response to committee questions, originally wrote that she received $12,450 from Tiller between 1994 and 2001. An Associated Press review, however, revealed that Tiller donated at least $23,000 more to Sebelius' political action committee from 2000 to 2002.
Just two of the 10 Republicans on the Finance Committee voted for Sebelius: Sen. Pat Roberts from Sebelius' home state and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.
Other Republicans on the committee questioned Sebelius' willingness to allow the government to interfere in doctor-patient relationships. With health care reform set to receive a lot of congressional attention in the coming months, GOP lawmakers are concerned that President Obama's overhaul plans could lead to a government-run health care system.
"I believe in the right of every American to choose the doctor, hospital, and health plan of his or her choice," said GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona before voting against Sebelius' nomination. "No Washington bureaucrat should interfere with that right or substitute the government's judgment for that of a physician."
No timetable has been set for Sebelius' final confirmation vote, but Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told reporters he would "push for immediate action by the full Senate so that she can finally roll up her sleeves and get down to helping out on this critical work of reforming the health care system."