Kennedy chairs HHS hearing

By Caitlin Taylor

Mar 31, 2009 10:54am

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf reports: Sen. Ted Kennedy is on Capitol Hill this morning in a rare extended appearance in front of live TV cameras – he is chairing a confirmation hearing for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary. Kennedy referred to his own brain cancer in short remarks as he gaveled the hearing to order and noted the need to pass wholesale healthcare reform. "Over the past ten months, I’ve seen our health care system up close," Kennedy said. "I’ve benefitted from the best of medicine," he said, arguing that too many Americans do not have access to that care. "But we have too many uninsured Americans. We have sickness care and not health care. We have too much paperwork and bureaucracy. Costs are out of control. But today we have an opportunity like never before to reform health care." While Kennedy was engaged in the hearing and his voice was steady, there was evidence of his ongoing physical difficulties; at times his hands could be seen shaking above the table on the elevated dais where Senators sat during the hearing. This is first time we have seen him at a televised hearing since early January when he chaired a hearing for former Sen. Tom Daschle, who pulled his name from consideration for the HHS post amid a tax controversy. Kennedy has been on Capitol Hill often this month. He has an office off the Senate floor from where has been working behind the scenes and out of the public eye on health care reform. It is the Finance Committee that technically holds jurisdiction over the HHS post, but Sebelius would work closely with members of Kennedy’s Health Education Labor and Pensions committee in crafting health reform legislation the Congressional leaders hope to consider this year. Sebelius will appear at a confirmation hearing before the Finance Committee on Thursday. Introducing Sebelius at today’s HELP hearing was former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. Dole, who was in the Senate during the Clinton administration during the last major push to reform health care gave some bipartisan support to tackling health care this year. "It’s time to bite the bullet," Dole said. Dole added that he hopes Democrats will make the effort bipartisan, even though they have the numbers to push reform through on their own. "Bipartisanship is a good word."

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