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Leavitt gets OK from Finance Committee

Hatch predicts smooth sailing for confirmation

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Mike Leavitt

Mike Leavitt

WASHINGTON — Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee vote was unanimous.

And U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, predicts that full Senate confirmation of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services should be more of the same.

"He's going to be just fine," Hatch said, adding he has heard of no opposition from anyone in the Senate to the Leavitt nomination.

Leavitt has won the backing of prominent Democrats like Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. And it is unlikely Senate Democrats would use the Leavitt nomination to make a political statement, as they have with Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice, Hatch said.

"But we'll have to see," Hatch said.

Without comment or discussion, the Finance Committee approved Leavitt's nomination by a voice vote.

Leavitt met individually with members of the Finance Committee prior to last week's nomination hearing, smoothing the waters prior to the hearing that nonetheless got a little rough when some senators felt that Leavitt was not answering the questions he had been asked.

Since that nomination hearing, Leavitt has been meeting with other key players in the health and human services arena, learning the issues and "doing everything he should be doing," Hatch said.

Leavitt, who resigned three years into his third term as Utah governor to become Bush's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was not present for Tuesday's vote.

At EPA, Leavitt earned high praise from both sides of the aisle for his ability to bring together disparate factions in a spirit of cooperation. That approach, articulated during two Senate committee hearings, is based on principles he developed as part of his Enlibra environmental doctrine, but adapted to his new responsibilities.

"I believe collaboration trumps polarization every time and that solutions to complex problems have to transcend political boundaries," he said.

He told senators that market forces are superior to mandates, and that "people do more, and do it faster, when they have an incentive to do the right thing."

Upon his confirmation by the Senate, Leavitt will be put in charge of a massive bureaucracy with a $548 billion budget and 66,639 employees.

And Bush has an ambitious agenda for Leavitt, who recently moved his wife and son, Westin, to Washington, D.C., after a year of long-distance commuting.

Leavitt is charged with implementing the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare. Bush wants to expand federal cooperation with faith-based groups that provide essential services, and to protect the nation from disease and terror.

"We will not relent in our efforts to protect the American people from disease and the use of disease as a weapon against us," Bush said at the time of the nomination.

Leavitt would replace Tommy Thompson, a longtime Leavitt friend from their days as Republican governors, who resigned after Bush's first term.


E-mail: spang@desnews.com