Sebelius to HHS

SEBELIUS TO HHS…. It’s official: “Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius yesterday accepted President Obama’s request to become his secretary of health and human services, stepping into a central role in the new administration’s ambitious effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care system.”

Sebelius will not, however, be stepping into the role envisioned for Tom Daschle.

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. […]

An administration source said it is likely that Obama will nominate someone else for a second post Daschle had created for himself: director of a new White House Office of Health Reform. One name mentioned for the job is former Clinton administration adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, who would take over the effort to conceive, sell and implement a wide-ranging health-care overhaul.

The idea was for Daschle to navigate the reform process through Congress, which Sebelius, a newcomer to Washington, is less suited for. Ezra noted the other day, “She’d be a newcomer to Washington, with few contacts on the Hill and little knowledge of the players or the process. She’s not versed in the administration’s health care plan nor has she been present for the internal conversations that have sharpened in recent weeks as the coming budget forced hard decisions on the proposal. She’d be walking into a situation where various internal players and advisers have already carved out a broad role for themselves in the administration’s process and she’d be facing down a Congress that’s surprisingly far along in its own preparations.”

But that hardly makes her a poor choice for HHS. On the contrary, Sebelius is a fine pick who will likely be easily confirmed. She’s known for her strong managerial skills, has broad credibility with both parties, and has a background on healthcare that will no doubt serve her well: “The Kansas governor served as state insurance commissioner for eight years and has overseen the Medicaid program for the poor during her tenure as governor. Sebelius tried unsuccessfully to expand health coverage in the state through higher cigarette taxes. Still, under her watch, Kansas has added tens of thousands of low-income children to state health programs. As insurance commissioner, Sebelius rejected the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas to an Indiana company, citing the prospect of higher premiums.”

The NYT emphasized Sebelius’ unwavering pro-choice credentials, which it said “may prove a lightning rod in her confirmation.” The usual suspects are, predictably, riled up — Bill Donohue said, “This is setting up a confrontation that pro-life Catholics will not walk away from.” Indeed, a number of far-right groups have been gearing up to oppose Sebelius for her record on supporting abortion rights.

I seriously doubt this will have any kind of impact. For one thing, the conservative critics have reached out to Senate Republicans, who have proceeded to blow them off. For another, the Senate Democratic majority has 58 members.

The downside to Sebelius’ nomination? Kansas will host an open-seat Senate campaign next year, and Democrats would love to see their popular two-term governor run. That, apparently, isn’t going to happen, making the Democratic pick-up opportunity remote.