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Senate panel approves Sebelius as HHS secretary

WASHINGTON — Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius cleared the first hurdle Tuesday on her way to becoming the government's chief health official when the Senate Finance Committee approved her nomination as the secretary of health and human services.

In the 15-8 vote, every Democrat on the committee plus two Republicans — Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Olympia Snowe of Maine — approved her nomination.

The only vocal objection came from Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who said he worried that Sebelius would be too quick to put limits on patient care. Kyl charged that Sebelius had an "insufficient commitment" to the rights of Americans to choose their own doctors and health-care plans.

As at the two earlier hearings on her nomination, Sebelius got a free pass as far as questions on abortion and issues surrounding her personal finances.

Sebelius favors abortion rights, and she misstated some political contributions from Dr. George Tiller, who runs an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan. She also had to pay back taxes and interest when an accountant she'd hired found errors on her tax returns.

Sebelius didn't attend Tuesday's hearing. Her nomination now will go to the full Senate for a vote, but a date hasn't been set.

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