Obama Names New Health Care Team to Tackle Reform Agenda

JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, the president's new health care team. Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser begins our report.

BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour correspondent: For the second time in less than a week, President Obama emphasized how high a priority health care reform will be on his agenda.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we're going to help families, save businesses, and improve the long-term economic health of our nation, we must realize that fixing what's wrong with our health care system is no longer just a moral imperative, but a fiscal imperative.

Health care reform that reduces costs while expanding coverage is no longer just a dream we hope to achieve. It's a necessity we have to achieve.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is the president's second nominee as secretary of health and human services.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle withdrew after admitting he had tax problems.

If confirmed, the 60-year-old Sebelius will take on an agency with Herculean responsibilities, everything from Medicare and Medicaid to food and drug safety to the National Institutes of Health.

President Obama, who last week proposed setting aside more than $630 billion in new health care spending over the next 10 years, said today that the Democratic two-term governor and former state insurance commissioner is up to the challenges ahead.

BARACK OBAMA: She's won praise for her expertise from stakeholders across the spectrum, from consumer groups to insurers.

Over eight years as state insurance commissioner, she refused campaign contributions from insurance companies and protected the people of Kansas from increases to their premiums by blocking a takeover of the state's largest insurer.

She helped draft a proposed national bill of rights for patients and served as the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. And as a governor, she's been on the front lines of our health care crisis.

She has a deep knowledge of what the burden of crushing costs does to our families and businesses. That's why she fought to guarantee Kansans access to quality, affordable health care and sought to secure it for every Kansas child from birth to age 5.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: An early Obama backer, Sebelius was on the campaign trail and gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer. Sebelius is a Roman Catholic who supports abortion rights, a position for which she's been criticized by her local archbishop.

She also comes from political stock in the Midwest. Her father served as both a congressman and governor of Ohio. Her father-in-law, a Republican, is a former congressman from Kansas.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, D-Kan., Health and Human Services secretary-designate: I share your belief that we can't fix the economy without fixing health care. The work won't be easy, but bringing about real change rarely is.

Business and labor leaders, teachers and health care providers, policymakers at the state, local, and national level, parents and children are ready to join this effort. This isn't a partisan challenge; it's an American challenge and one that we can't afford to ignore.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: To work hand in hand with Sebelius, the president chose Nancy-Ann DeParle as director of the new White House Office of Health Reform.

BARACK OBAMA: As commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee, she saw firsthand our health care system's impact on workers and families. In the Clinton administration, she handled budget matters for federal health care programs and took on the tremendous task of managing Medicare and Medicaid.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: President Obama introduced his health care team just days before he convenes a White House summit on health care later this week.

Representatives from the health insurance industry, drug companies, consumers, and lawmakers from both parties are expected to attend.

JIM LEHRER: Judy Woodruff takes it from there.