By LAURA MECKLER
President Barack Obama has chosen Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services and will announce the decision at the White House Monday, administration officials said Saturday.
Ms. Sebelius, 60, was an early backer of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and a contender for the vice presidential spot, but many assumed she did not wish to join the Cabinet when the initial round of nominations was made and she was not among them. But the president and the governor were given a fresh opportunity when his first choice, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pulled out amid controversy over late-paid taxes.
Before becoming governor, Ms. Sebelius was a two-term state insurance commissioner, overseeing the regulation of health insurance in Kansas, where she won a reputation as a consumer advocate. She was also president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. While Mr. Obama envisions a system whereby the federal government would have a strong hand regulation of health insurance, traditionally this has been the province of the states.
But her efforts as governor to expand health coverage often have been rebuffed in the Legislature.
She has also attracted intense opposition of abortion opponents who contend she is too close to a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions, citing a reception she once held for him and donations he has given to her campaign. Administration officials have said they are not bothered by the complaints and note that any person chosen to lead HHS in the Obama administration will be a supporter of abortion rights.
The announcement comes as the White House gears up to push ambitious health care legislation through Congress aimed at controlling costs and extending health coverage. On Thursday, the president offered $634 billion over 10 years in funding for the initiative, and he will convene a summit of health care leaders this coming Thursday to discuss, among other things, how the money should best be spent.
Ms. Sebelius is in the middle of her second gubernatorial term and is barred by term limits from seeking a third term. There was widespread speculation that she might run for the Senate in 2010.