President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius on Monday to be the nation's Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS. Governor Sebelius is Mr. Obama's second choice for the post after former Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his name amid controversy over unpaid income taxes.
The expected Sebelius announcement follows a huge health care reform proposal in Mr. Obama's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
If confirmed by the Senate, Kathleen Sebelius, an early supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for president, is expected to play a prominent role in reforming the nation's health care system. She currently is serving her second term as Kansas governor after holding the post of state insurance commissioner.
President Obama has made health care a major priority of his administration. Last week, in unveiling his $3.5 trillion budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, Mr. Obama acted on his campaign pledge to overhaul the nation's health care system with a request for more than $600 billion to fund reforms over 10 years.
"With this budget, we are making a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform," Mr. Obama said. "It's a step that will not only make families healthier and companies more competitive, but over the long term it will also help us bring down our deficit."
Mr. Obama says he wants to expand health care coverage while slowing the rate of cost increases. Administration officials say they hope to create a universal system that will lead to more affordable coverage for all Americans.
Over the weekend, Reuters news service quoted an unnamed Obama administration official as saying that Governor Sebelius is a popular state official known for her bipartisan approach and that as insurance commissioner, she stood for better health care, giving her "unique insight and experience" that President Obama can draw on.
Mr. Obama's first choice as HHS secretary was former Senator Tom Daschle who withdrew his nomination last month after it was revealed that he failed to pay about $140,000 in taxes.
The selection of Governor Sebelius comes as the White House prepares to host a summit on health care reform, involving lawmakers and members of key interest groups.
Appearing the CBS television program "Face the Nation," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said health care reform is crucial to reviving the U.S. economy.
"The health care system is a particular example where America's economic competitiveness, its strength around the world, is sapped because we have a health care system that doesn't allow American workers and businesses to compete, and it is the key to our long-term putting our fiscal house in order," Emmanuel said.
Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about the proposed cost of Democratic health care reforms and about giving the federal government a larger role in health care.
The Department of Health and Human Services employs some 65,000 people and manages government health insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as health and social science research, disease prevention, and food and drug safety programs.