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Sebelius Vote Set to Hit Senate Floor

As the Senate prepares to takes up the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services secretary today, a broader health care reform debate will be just as much a focus as a discussion of the actual nominee.

Sebelius, the two-term Democratic governor of Kansas, won the support of just two Republicans on the Finance Committee in large part because of her refusal to talk about getting a bipartisan health care bill through Congress this year, according to a senior GOP aide.

So while Sebelius is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate this week, her confirmation is almost certain to spark a debate about health care as well. “Republicans will talk about the need for health care reform and call for a bipartisan bill,” the aide added.

The Senate is scheduled to vote later today to cut off debate on the Sebelius nomination. With that motion expected to clear the 60-vote threshold, the chamber could vote on final passage later this week.

Democrats, meanwhile, have launched their own public relations offensive that will continue through the spring and early summer while the Senate moves on a massive health care bill that has already drawn GOP fire.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) penned a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday calling it “my greatest hope that Republicans will decide to work with Democrats” on a health care bill this year.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) dismissed the use of fast-track instructions included in the budget reconciliation that would lower the threshold of votes to a simple majority needed to pass a health care bill in the Senate this year.

“There’s absolutely no appetite for reconciliation,” Dodd said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “If we get down to that kind of partisan [and] acrimonious debate, the country will lose.”

Highlighting the “good faith” bipartisan negotiations on health care that have already occurred this year, Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) issued their own call for continued cooperation.

“We hope that any plans for using budget reconciliation to jam a partisan health care bill are scrapped in favor of a bipartisan approach that serves Americans for decades to come,” Grassley and Enzi said in a joint statement.

The Finance Committee approved Sebelius’ nomination 15-8 last week with just two Republicans, home-state colleague Sen. Pat Roberts and moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), voting in favor.

Sebelius boasts a popular record in the conservative-leaning state despite her views on abortion, which also led to a handful of Republican “no” votes on the Finance panel, including that of Sen. John Cornyn (Texas).

However, Sebelius has the crucial backing of both Roberts and his fellow Kansas Republican, the staunch abortion opponent Sen. Sam Brownback. Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.), one of few Democratic Senators who does not support abortion rights, also intends to vote for Sebelius.

And in the wake of the swine flu outbreak that has killed more than 120 people in Mexico, Collins, noting the urgency of having an HHS secretary in place, joined those who will support Sebelius, nearly assuring the confirmation.

Sebelius was President Barack Obama’s second pick to fill the HHS post.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination after coming under fire for failing to pay more than $100,000 in taxes on time. Sebelius’ nomination was briefly shaken — although not threatened — when it was discovered that she had more than $8,000 in misfiled taxes and received campaign donations from a doctor who has performed late-term abortions.

If confirmed, Sebelius will fill the last vacant secretary post in the Obama administration.

“Governor Sebelius has a record of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done,” Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said through a spokeswoman. “She is the right person to set a bipartisan tone at HHS and she is the right partner for Congress on health care reform.”

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