Kansas Gov. To Be Named Health Secretary

President Obama names his health secretary on Monday. It's expected to be Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Later this week, Obama hosts lawmakers and representatives of major interest groups at a White House summitt on overhauling health care.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer sitting in for Renee Montagne.

President Obama has a new choice to lead his drive for health care reform. Later today he's expected to name Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services. The president first picked former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle to head the enormous department, but Daschle withdrew when it was revealed he had not fully paid his taxes. Now the president appears to be taking a different approach with his new pick. Let's get some analysis now from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good Morning Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good Morning Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, how are lawmakers on Capitol Hill going to deal with the appointment of someone who has not been in the Congress, an outsider to this key post?

ROBERTS: I think it's really hard to match Tom Daschle in this job. The combination of his knowledge of the issue and his knowledge of the institution are really very important when you have such an enormous task on your hands. I mean President Obama is proposing $634 billion expansion of government coverage of health care for over 10 years. But Kathleen Sebelius is politically very savvy. As you well know, her father was the former Democratic Governor of Ohio, her father-in-law, a former Republican congressman from Kansas. And she was a very, very early endorser when there was a lot of pressure on her, as a woman office holder, to back Hillary Clinton. The president's clearly comfortable with her. But Congress has felt not included on health care before, as happened in the Clinton administration. And the president's planning a White House summit on this subject later this week when members of the Congress are likely to be called in. And of course, Kathleen Sebelius knows that she has to deal with the Congress on this. Senator Kennedy, the point man, is likely to be very friendly. Her father campaigned with his brother Bobby. They've lots of friends in common. She also has the same alma mater as Nancy Pelosi. All of that stuff counts when it comes to dealing with Congress. But that's still different from having been in the room where the arguments have been happening year in and year out, where you can basically make the other guys speech.


ROBERTS: And that's what Tom Daschle could have done.

WERTHEIMER: Well now, what kind of track record could the Governor of Kansas have on health care?

ROBERTS: She tried hard to expand healthcare in Kansas by raising the cigarette tax and she failed - dealing with a Republican legislator. She did expand health coverage for kids. She got crosswise a lot with anti abortion groups, in dealing with that issue. But her previous job as insurance commissioner is the real experience, where she cast herself as a consumer protector, and that was really what got her elected governor. She could have a little problem with her job before that, as the Executive Director of the Kansas trial lawyers. That won't make the healthcare community, the doctors, very happy. But her executive experience in general is important. This is an agency of 65,000 people and so that could be helpful.

WERTHEIMER: One of the ways the president plans to pay for healthcare reform is to end the war in Iraq, and he made some major announcements on that score over the weekend. How were they received, do you think?

ROBERTS: I think that it's interesting here, he's gotten more support from Republicans and from Democrats - including his former opponent John McCain. He went to Fort Lejeune on - Camp Lejeune - on Friday to say getting the combat troops out by August 2010, but 50,000 still there until probably the end of 2011, beginning 2012. That's got some Democrats very unhappy, particularly Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and to some degree the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

It's interesting, Harry Reid is also somewhat crossways with the president on the issue of earmarks. The president signed - says he will sign a big spending bill that has close to 9,000 of those earmarks in it for next year. He says it's last year's business. Harry Reid says, look, earmarks a good thing. I'd prefer to have Congress decide where the money's going than bureaucrats deciding it. So, that can be an argument for the future.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.