Washington Digest

Washington Digest

Friday, April 3, 2009


Sebelius Appears Unhurt by Tax Error

An $8,000 tax error does not appear to be jeopardizing the confirmation of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as secretary of health and human services.

In a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday, no mention was made of Sebelius's payment of back taxes, even though a similar problem scuttled the nomination of President Obama's first choice for the job, former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).

Late Tuesday, Sebelius acknowledged that she and her husband mistakenly claimed a mortgage deduction and did not have proper paperwork for a few charitable contributions. The couple paid the back taxes and interest after an auditor spotted the errors.

In a statement, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) warned that he takes "tax matters very seriously," but he did not press Sebelius.

The potentially contentious subject of abortion also did not arise, despite complaints from the religious right that Sebelius has an "egregious record" on the issue.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was hoping for a vote by the Senate before lawmakers leave this weekend for a two-week recess, but some Republicans suggested they may demand more time.

The hearing offered a glimpse into the upcoming debate over health-care reform. Baucus urged Sebelius to endorse his proposal to require that every American have health insurance. Sebelius sidestepped the controversial idea, known as an individual mandate, but agreed that every American should be covered.

Lawmakers on the panel debated whether the restructuring of the U.S. health-care system ought to include a new government-sponsored insurance plan for people who have difficulty buying private coverage. Several Republicans expressed reservations with the idea, particularly if it allows the government to set payment rates.

Sebelius said 30 states take that approach with insurance offerings for government employees.

-- Ceci Connolly

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