- The Washington Times - Friday, April 11, 2014

President Obama hailed departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a tireless leader who turned around the troubled rollout of his health care law — one week after he failed to mention her in cheering the millions of enrollees his sweeping overhaul brought in from October to March.

Mr. Obama said Mrs. Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas, will be remembered as the captain of a mission to make health care “not a privilege but a right” for every American citizen through the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

But he acknowledged it had been a bruising road to 7.5 million sign-ups under his law, after the federal HealthCare.gov crashed in the first weeks of enrollment last fall.

“She’s got bumps. I’ve got bumps, bruises,” he said in a speech at the White House’s Rose Garden.

Mr. Obama said Mrs. Sebelius told him in early March she would be stepping down when the first period of enrollment finished up. Unlike his remarks in the same spot last week, Mr. Obama capped Mrs. Sebelius‘ tenure by speaking glowingly about her as she stood by his side.

“Under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself,” he said.

He then turned to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a well-known government manager who Mr. Obama nominated to replace Mrs. Sebelius at the top of HHS.

Until Friday, Mrs. Burwell had served as Mr. Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sylvia is a proven manager, and she knows how to deliver results,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama encouraged the Senate to approve Mrs. Burwell without delay, noting she was unanimously approved to serve in her most recent position.

“I’m assuming not that much has changed since that time,” he quipped.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Friday he hopes his Republican colleagues “will work with us to ensure we fill this important position without unnecessary obstruction and delay.”

Senate Democrats should have an easy time approving the president’s choice, now that it has employed the “nuclear option” and can approve nominees on a majority vote without having to overcome the 60-vote threshold to avoid Republican filibusters.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he expects the leadership swap at HHS to occur in May, but declined to forecast in detail what he expects out of the Senate debate on Mrs. Burwell.

“Given that they confirmed her to a Cabinet position a year ago unanimously, and that in the interim she has performed admirably and ably in that position and has earned the praise of Democrats and Republicans alike, I think it’s fair to expect that she would be confirmed swiftly,” he said.

Mrs. Sebelius resigned this week after a five-year tenure marked by Obamacare’s troubled rollout and constant sparring with Republican lawmakers over the law, which the GOP views as flawed and bad for America.

Her resignation coincided with the end of the law’s six-month enrollment period, a move that analysts viewed as a well-timed departure after Mr. Obama ignored calls to fire her during HealthCare.gov’s darkest days.

At the White House, Mrs. Sebelius thanked the president and doubled down on her belief in Obamacare’s mission.

“We are on the front lines of a long, overdue national change — fixing a broken health system,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “This is the most meaningful work I’ve ever been a part of.”

She did, however, face one final glitch, after a page of her speech went missing, forcing her to adjust on the fly and finish up her remarks.

After all legislative battles and court challenges, she said, “critics and supporters alike are benefiting from [Mr. Obama’s] law.”

Mrs. Sebelius received a standing ovation from those in attendance, a starkly different reception than the ones she received on Capitol Hill during her time at the helm of HHS.

“Secretary Sebelius is responsible for deceiving millions upon millions of Americans about the disastrous effects Obamacare would have on their healthcare,” Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said Friday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he looks forward to vetting Mrs. Burwell. But he echoed a chorus of Republicans who say turnover at HHS will not rewrite Mr. Obama’s reforms.

Ms. Burwell has been nominated to one of the most challenging roles in our government and must outline how she will right the wrongs of this misguided law,” he said.

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