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Inside Politics

Bush nominates Leavitt for health secretary

Mike Leavitt accepts the nomination Monday.
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President Bush nominates Mike Leavitt for HHS secretary.
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(CNN) -- President Bush has nominated EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt to replace Tommy Thompson as Health and Human Services secretary.

Before joining the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2003, Leavitt, 53, was governor of Utah for 11 years.

"He has managed the EPA with skill and with a focus on results," Bush said from the White House Roosevelt Room.

Bush said he plans to implement the first prescription drug benefit for seniors and has called for expanding the services provided by faith-based groups and continuing medical research "always ensuring that the work is carried out with vigor and moral integrity."

"I look forward, as the president said, to the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006, medical liability reform and finding ways to reduce the cost of health care," Leavitt said.

"I am persuaded that we can use technology and innovation to meet our most noble aspirations and not compromise our other values that we hold so dear."

The Department of Health and Human Services is the biggest in the federal government. According to the HHS Web site, nearly 25 percent of federal outlays go to the agency.

HHS has a 2005 budget of $580 billion -- $67 billion of which is discretionary funds.

The department oversees Medicare and Medicaid for senior citizens, the safety of drugs and the nation's food supply through the Food and Drug Administration and it administers the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leavitt would be one of several recent changes in the Bush administration.

Nine of Bush's 15 Cabinet secretaries have tendered their resignations, and the president has nominated replacements for all. Bernard Kerik, however, withdrew his name from consideration for Homeland Security secretary on Friday night. (Full story)

The nine departures mark the largest second-term Cabinet overhaul in more than 30 years. Presidents Reagan and Clinton each had seven Cabinet changes for their second terms. The last to have nine was Richard Nixon in 1972.

The Senate must confirm all of the nominees. Confirmation hearings have been scheduled for Margaret Spellings, nominated for education secretary, on January 6, and Condoleezza Rice, nominated for secretary of state, on January 18-19.

Thompson resigned on December 3. He said that the decision was not an easy one and that his job had been both challenging and rewarding. (Full story)

He said he intends to serve until February 4 or until the Senate confirms his successor.

"I am proud of the people and the work of America's department of compassion. This department really does a tremendous job. It impacts every man woman and child every single day," Thompson said.

During his tenure, Thompson has led the department through the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease; the lethal spread of anthrax-laced letters and this year's shortage of the flu vaccine.

Before becoming the Health and Human Services secretary, Thompson served as the governor of Wisconsin where he was praised in conservative circles as a pioneer in welfare-to-work programs.

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