Big labor comes to Sebelius's defense

Two major labor unions are speaking out against efforts by Senate Republicans to delay a vote on the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius to be secretary of Health and Human Services.

In separate statements issued Thursday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger slammed the GOP for holding up Senate confirmation of Sebelius, the Democratic governor of Kansas, to President Obama's Cabinet.

"Senate Republicans are obstructing the confirmation of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and ignoring the American voters' mandate for new leadership and an end to the status quo, especially when it comes to our nation's broken health care system," Sweeney said.

"Working families have been waiting a long time for the Federal Government to address our healthcare crisis," Burger said. "Now that we're so close, this delay in approving Governor Sebelius for HHS is unconscionable."

Organized labor has been pushing hard for health reform modeled after the proposal President Obama touted on the campaign trail. The Obama administration's efforts on healthcare have at least been symbolically hampered by the ongoing vacancy atop the federal health department. Obama's original nominee, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), withdrew in February after revealing he'd paid more than $140,000 in back taxes while under consideration for the Cabinet.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 15-8 to recommend the Senate confirm Sebelius. Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Pat Roberts of Sebelius's home state of Kansas joined with Democrats on the vote. Fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins intend to vote for Sebelius on the floor.

But, largely at the urging of the anti-abortion-rights movement, Republicans have sought to put off Senate consideration of Sebelius's nomination. Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) request that the Senate proceed to a vote.

- Jeffrey Young