Following weeks of speculation, President Obama nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services. She will be responsible for shepherding the president’s promise of universal health care through Congress, and for carrying out his promises to reform health care in America.
In last week’s address to Congress, Obama stated:
we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.
[Our budget] includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform ? a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.† It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue.† And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.†
I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process.† It will be hard.† But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough.† So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.
Sebelius has experience with these problems. Before becoming Governor, she was Kansas Insurance Commissioner. In that role, she was known as a fierce advocate for the concerns of consumers, looking for ways to hold costs down and to expand coverage as widely as possible. As Governor, she’s worked to make children’s health insurance universal.
She’s done so in the same way President Obama has sought to, by working across political boundaries, cutting deals with Republicans that let everyone save face, while achieving key progressive goals.
In a release, Kansas Democratic Party Chair Larry Gates writes “Along with all Kansas Democrats, I am thrilled our good friend, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, is nominated for this high Cabinet post. I applaud President Obama for nominating someone with the knowledge, skills and compassion needed to bring change to America’s health care system. As she always does, our Governor has made all Kansans proud of her and her nationally recognized leadership.”
However, the love that so many Kansans feel for their governor is what makes this nomination so worrisome. With Sam Brownback set to leave his Senate seat open in 2010, Sebelius is considered the favorite to replace him, which would make her the first Democrat to represent the Sunflower State in the Senate since the 1930s. And once there, she could probably remain for decades as a strong Democratic voice from a midwestern state.
Perhaps she’ll still do that, running for Senate as a cabinet secretary. But that’s a dodgier prospect. So I congratulate the Governor for her well-deserved nomination, but I hope and pray that she’ll do the right thing for Kansas and for her party when the time comes to claim a 60th Democratic seat in the Senate. I know she’ll be a great Secretary of Health and Human Services, and that the nation will benefit from this nomination. I think she’d be an even better Senator, though, and I hope we don’t have to have only one or the other.