Many health-care advocates have been worried about who would end up
as President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, ever since
the withdrawal of powerful former Senator Thomas Daschle.

But we at WVFC couldn’t help smirking a bit at today’s news of the appointment of Sebelius, who appeared in our Newsmix last summer as a potential vice president.  In a press conference today (see above) announcing his choice of Sebelius President Obama also appointed 53-year-old  Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, former Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, as the director of the White House Office for Health Reform. The team will hold their first summit with patient advocates, industry representatives, and others with a stake in the shape of the new healthcare legislation about to approach Capitol Hill.

“Kathleen and Nancy share my resolve,” the President said in a Monday press conference, “about the needs of Americans struggling with health care.” Sebelius agreed: “I share your passion and personal commitment to healthcare reform.”

The Washington Post notes that the 60-year-old governor of Kansas will now be in charge of driving the biggest health-care expansion in decade:

Steering the costly changes through Congress, which would be a big part
of Sebelius’s portfolio, promises to be a complicated and politically
charged task. The withdrawal of Daschle, a former Senate majority
leader steeped in the byzantine ways of Congress as well as the
intricacies of the nation’s $2.3 trillion health-care system, delivered
a significant blow to the administration as it prepared to launch its
ambitious agenda on the topic.

Sebelius, 60, would inherit a sprawling department of 65,000
employees responsible for public health, food safety, scientific
research, and the administration of the Medicare and Medicaid programs,
which serve 90 million Americans. The solvency of the programs is yet
another worry confronting the administration, which has vowed to take
on entitlement reform.

All this may seem daunting for a Washington newcomer. But as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein noted last summer, Sebelius has already shown that she has a lot of the qualities needed to make it happen. Her record shows a tough administrator, deeply bipartisan and yet determined to get it right even when it’s not popular:

More often than not, Sebelius has harnessed legislative consensus for
her agenda. In a special session in 2005, she was handed a budgetary
bombshell when the state’s Supreme Court ordered the government to
provide $500 million for school funding (Kansas’ budget is roughly $12
billion). Discussions went on for days in the legislature, with talk of
impeachment of the justices surfacing. Sebelius stood behind the court,
and recruited a slim majority of lawmakers to her side. Funds were
passed for the schools and three years later the program is regarded as
a success.

“She brings people together and gets things done,” said Raj Goyle, a
first term state representative. “Governor Sebelius has a unique record
of reaching across traditional party lines in Kansas to build
consensus.”

But when she felt it necessary, Sebelius fought — and often won.

She vetoed a bill that would have required voters to show photo identification before voting, citing disenfranchisement concerns…. Most recently,Sebelius offered a third veto to a bill that would have paved the way for the construction of two new
coal-fired units in western Kansas, and she did it primarily on
environmental grounds, a stance that a decade ago would have amounted
to political suicide.

“Elected leaders are supposed to look at the big picture, at issues
that may not affect citizens immediately but are extremely beneficial
to the long-term condition of our society. Moving toward renewable
energy provides opportunities for better-paying jobs, while helping to
address concerns caused by global warming,” she said of her decision.

We suspect that in choosing this particular Mistress of the Universe, President Obama may know what he’s on about. Now we wait to hear how we can make the changes we all need.

— Chris L.

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