Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won Senate confirmation Tuesday as the nation's health and human services secretary, thrusting her into the middle of a public health emergency with the swine flu sickening dozens of Americans.
The 65-31 confirmation vote came after Democrats urged quick action so that Sebelius could get to work leading the federal response to the flu outbreak.
"We find ourselves in the midst of a global crisis," said Sen.
Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "What we've been missing in all of this is the head of the Health and HumanServices Department." Sixty votes in the 100-seat Senate were necessary for approval.
Immediately after the vote Sebelius resigned as governor in Kansas and headed to Washington toget sworn in.
Republican opponents cited Sebelius' pro-abortion stances and raised concerns about whetherObama administration plans to overhaul the nation's health system would cut out Republicans andlead to rationing of care.
"She is the wrong appointee for this particular assignment," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. "Shehas backed a partisan process for health care reform. She has refused to support patientsafeguards.." With no HHS secretary in place, the White House has turned to Homeland SecuritySecretary Janet Napolitano to help lead its response to the swine flu, even while insisting thatvacancies at the top of HHS were not a problem.
Sebelius, 60, was the first of 20 HHS officials requiring Senate approval to win it, and she heads towork with many team members missing. The Senate hasn't acted on Obama's nominees for deputyHHS secretary or commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Obama hasn't evennominated people for other key jobs, including surgeon general and assistant secretary forpreparedness and response.
There's also not been an appointment for head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,another component of the sprawling HHS, which has 65,000 employees and a $750 billion budget. The whole process suffered a setback when Obama's first pick for HHS secretary, former Sen. TomDaschle of South Dakota, withdrew in February over unpaid taxes.
Though the swine flu will be an immediate focus, Sebelius will also be charged with shepherdingObama's overhaul of the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system to reduce costs and cover some 50million uninsured Americans.
Sebelius was the last of Obama's Cabinet nominees awaiting confirmation.