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Times: Sebelius Now Top Choice For Hhs

Peter Baker and Robert Pear of the New York Times are reporting that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has emerged as the top choice to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, the post Tom Daschle was once supposed to take. (As for Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, whose name generated so much controversy in the past two weeks, I'm hearing he is unlikely to get the job.)

A Sebelius appointment would be both popular and, I think, smart. As I wrote shortly after Daschle's withdrawal

Of the names in circulation, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is the one that seems increasingly logical to me. People marvel about her managerial abilities and there's no question about having the relevant experience. She was the state insurance commissioner before she became governor; over the yeras, she's fought to stamp out fraudlent carriers, block dangerous industry mergers, and overcome lawmakers opposed to expansions of government health insurance for kids. She's well-known and well-liked by the health care advocacy community. And while she's not steeped in the ways of Washington, she'd have plenty of advisors to help--not to mention a strong relationship with Obama, based in part on her bipartisan touch.

Given the confirmation trouble Dachle and other appointees have faced, the administraiton may take some more time for a thorough vetting, although there's no reason whatosever to doubt that Sebelius would pass. If anything, the biggest obstacle to appointing Sebelius has been Sebelius herself; it hasn't been clear that she would take the job. The Times story suggests she has decided she would.

As for what happens to the health care reform effort, that's another story. It's unlikely that Sebelius would take on all or even most of the advising duties Daschle had as an advisor to the president. As HHS Secretary, Sebelius would have a seat at the table and--naturally--be heavily involved in implementation of the plan. But--and here I'm speculating--it'd be difficult for her to have a major role in shaping the proposal itself, given how far along the planning process has already gone.

--Jonathan Cohn