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HHS nominee Burwell passes key test vote in Senate
Question of the Day
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s pick to see Obamacare into its second season, easily cleared a key Senate hurdle Wednesday, putting her on track to be confirmed as the next Health and Human Services secretary in a final vote Thursday.
The White House budget chief has support from both Democrats and Republicans, even though the implementation of Mr. Obama’s signature health overhaul has been marred by mismanagement, website failures and partisan rancor. She cleared a potential filibuster on a 67-28 vote.
“Ms. Burwell has earned much respect here in the Congress on both sides of the aisle,” Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Although it was hardly the 96-0 tally she received when she was confirmed as White House budget director, 14 Republicans joined with Democrats to greenlight her nomination — five more than outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius won in her 2009 confirmation vote.
The “no” votes Wednesday came from Republicans such as Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, who has taken heat from GOP primary opponent Milton Wolf for voting to confirm Mrs. Sebelius, a fellow Kansan, before the health care law passed.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said he is opposing Mrs. Burwell in order to send a signal to Mr. Obama about his displeasure with the health law.
“That is unacceptable. President Obama and Director Burwell have turned their backs on the millions of Americans suffering because of Obamacare,” he said. “Until the president agrees to offer meaningful relief to the millions of people hurt by Obamacare, we should not confirm this nominee.”
Presuming she is approved Thursday, Mrs. Burwell will preside over an agency with a budget that tops $1 trillion and is responsible for a portfolio that includes major government health programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes for Health.
But the ongoing rollout of Obamacare remains her most daunting task.
The Obama administration reported Wednesday that 6 million people had enrolled in Medicaid coverage between the launch of Obamacare’s open enrollment and April 30. State programs that opted to expand the entitlement under the law grew at a 15-percent higher rate compared to a three-month period last year, while states that did not expand grew at closer to 3 percent.
The HHS reported the numbers as “gains,” but problems on the private enrollment side of the law are producing negative headlines. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that it had obtained a government document that says more than 2 million enrollees have data discrepancies on their applications that could affect their subsidy amounts or access to coverage.
“A 25 percent error rate is simply unacceptable when it comes to proper use of scarce taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said in response to the report.
Mrs. Burwell, a West Virginia native, graduated from Harvard University and worked for the Walmart Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In government, she developed a reputation as a competent manager and faced little opposition during a pair of confirmation hearings for the HHS post this spring.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, testified in support of Mrs. Burwell before the Senate Finance Committee last month, although he voted not to proceed with her nomination Wednesday.
A spokeswoman said the senator opposes the Democrats’ use of the “nuclear option” — a move that reduced the threshold for overcoming a filibuster on nominees from 60 votes down to 50 votes. The spokeswoman said Mr. Coburn will vote to confirm Mrs. Burwell.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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