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Obama's Cabinet nearly complete

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The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-8 in favor of Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services secretary, clearing the way to complete President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

Sebelius’ nomination now goes to the full Senate for a vote, the date of which hasn’t yet been announced. Sebelius had a confirmation hearing before the Finance Committee two weeks ago, but Republicans wary with her stances on abortion and Obama’s health care reforms delayed a vote on her nomination until after Congress returned from a two-week recess.

Republican senators Pat Roberts, from Sebelius’ home state of Kansas, and Maine’s Olympia Snowe voted in favor of Sebelius.

Sebelius, currently governor of Kansas, was Obama’s second choice to lead HHS. His first choice, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, stepped down in February after he acknowledged owing more than $140,000 in back taxes for use of a car and driver.

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No Sanjay Gupta in Obama administration

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Television personality and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta has pulled his name from consideration for surgeon general, according to a statement by CNN.

Gupta appears frequently on CNN as a commentator on medical and health issues. CNN U.S. President Jon Klein said Gupta made his decision to spend more time on his medical career and CNN career, according to a statement on CNN’s Web site.

Though a distinguished Atlanta neurosurgeon and professor, Gupta is best known to most Americans as a prolific television commentator. However, he served as an adviser to the Clinton White House, helping craft health care speeches and policy for Hillary Clinton. He was first rumored for the surgeon general post in January, with CNN all but confirming he’d been selected.

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Obama to name Sebelius as HHS leader

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President Barach Obama will formally annouce Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services later this afternoon.

This marks Obama’s second attempt to appoint a leader for HHS. His previous nominee, former Sen. Tom Daschle, pulled his name from consideration in February after revelations that he’d failed to pay more than $130,000 in back taxes.

Daschle was also named as the leader of health care policy for the White House, a role that Sebelius likely won’t hold. The “health care czar” is expected to help lead the White House’s revamping of health care policy this year.

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HHS administrator named

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Mary Wakefield has been named the new administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. Wakefield is currently the director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota.

President Barack Obama announced her appointment in a statement Friday.

“As a nurse, a Ph.D., and a leading rural healthcare advocate, Mary Wakefield brings expertise that will be instrumental in expanding and improving services for those who are currently uninsured or underserved. Under her leadership we will be able to expand and improve the care provided at the Community Health Centers which serve millions of uninsured Americans and address severe provider shortages across the country.”

The HRSA provides health care for uninsured and underserved populations.

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Senate Republicans speak on Daschle

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Senate Republican leaders addressed Tom Daschle’s stepping down as HHS secretary-nominee, with Sen. John Ensign saying Daschle’s nomination had “serious problems.”

Ensign, R-Nev., also decried Daschle’s health-care policy work with Alston & Bird, a Washington, D.C.-based law and lobbying firm. Previously, President Barack Obama pledged that lobbyists would not be allowed to have roles in the administration related to areas where they had lobbied.

I don’t know how you can get paid $2 million by a lobbying firm and not call yourself a lobbyist.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared annoyed by reporters’ repeated inquiries about Daschle, trying to bring attention back to the stimulus bill under consideration on the Senate floor right now. The Senate will vote on amendments for the stimulus bill today and tomorrow.

We have amendments which deal with the real problem — not who’s going to be the president’s staff — (and those) are what we’re going to be dealing with this week.”

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WH says dropping out was Daschle's call

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White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tom Daschle made the decision on his own to drop out of consideration for Health and Human Services secretary.

There was no signal to Daschle from the White House,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs added that Daschle also withdrew his name as leader of the new White House health care policy office.

Daschle’s decision caused waves on the Hill, where Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, remains in high regard. The Senate Finance Committee votes on the confirmation of the HHS secretary, but the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing in January because of the committee’s interests in HHS.

The hearing was nothing short of a lovefest, where senators lauded their former leader and called him “brilliant” and “the best man for the job.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., spoke of the need for the new HHS secretary to inspire and bring new leadership to the civil service.

Looks like they’ll be waiting a little longer for that.

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Obama names HHS deputy secretary

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President-elect Barack Obama today named William Corr as the nominee for deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Corr, currently the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, served as chief of staff to former Secretary Donna Shalala during her tenure at HHS. He also served as the deputy assistant secretary for health and counselor to the secretary.

He also has a solid working relationship with HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle, having served as chief counsel and policy director for former Senate Minority Leader Daschle for two years.

In a statement, Obama praised Corr’s experience and said he can help bring about meaningful health reforms.

“Reforming our health care system will be a top priority of my administration and key to putting our economy back on track. Bill Corr has the depth of experience and commitment to this issue necessary to take on this challenge.”

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Daschle kicks off confirmation hearings

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Former Sen. Tom Daschle’s appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today marked the first confirmation hearing for the slate of Senate confirmable nominees named by President-elect Barack Obama over the past two months.

During the hearing, which marked Chairman Edward Kennedy’s return to Capitol Hill after treatment for a brain tumor, Daschle repeatedly emphasized his commitment to improving efficiency and innovating America’s health care system. Senators also challenged him to improve civil servants’ morale within HHS and to make the department more effective and accountable.

Daschle spoke of the health crisis facing Native Americans, citing that more than 40 percent of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation’s residents age 40 and older have diabetes and the life expectancy is 47 years old. He pledged to focus efforts to improve the quality of care the Indian Health Service provides.

“I will also make sure the health disparities affecting all other minority and underserved populations are acknowledged and addressed,” he said.

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Tell Daschle how to fix health care

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Tom Daschle, the nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, wants to know how you’d change the nation’s health care system.

That’s according to an e-mail sent by John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project. He’s inviting people to create health care forum discussions about what needs to be changed and promises the transition team will take those opinions seriously.

“Secretary-designate Daschle is committed to reforming health care from the ground up, which is why he won’t just be reading the results of these discussions — he’ll be attending a few himself,” Podesta wrote in the e-mail, sent to subscribers to Obama’s campaign mailings as well as to reporters.

You can watch a video with Daschle or sign up for a discussion here. Sign-ups continue through Dec. 31.

So do you think the administration will really take these suggestions seriously? And most importantly, how long before the discussions degrade into personal attacks and spam invites to buy prescription drugs for cheap, like the rest of the Internet?

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Cabinet maker

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President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” he would start making Cabinet picks “soon.” Soon it is. In just the three days since that interview aired, several names have been reported as likely candidates for key administration posts:

  • Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.
  • Eric Holder Jr., former number two at the Justice Department, to be Attorny General.
  • New York Sen. Hillary Clinton to be secretary of State, although it is still unclear whether Obama has actually offered the job to her, even after conflict-of-interest issues concerning her husband Bill reportedly were worked out between Bill and Obama’s transition team.
  • And just revealed today: former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle to become head of the Health and Human Services Department.

Soon means soon.

Tell us what you think of these picks. Would you suggest others?

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