News

Burwell takes Obamacare hot seat before Senate panel

Burwell takes Obamacare hot seat before Senate panel

HEALTHCARE: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the widely respected White House budget director, who got a cordial reception from both Republicans and Democrats at her first hearing last week, Photo: Associated Press

By David Morgan and Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republicans get their last chance to grill President Barack Obama’s nominee for U.S. health secretary on Wednesday, but seem likely to take a harder line on the alleged failings of Obamacare than the job qualifications of Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The widely respected White House budget director, who got a cordial reception from both Republicans and Democrats at her first hearing last week, will appear before the Senate Finance Committee for a final hearing at which she is again likely to find support on both sides of the aisle.

Finance Committee members could take a harder line with Burwell, since they are responsible for deciding whether to move her nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote, aides said. Democrats who control the Senate still hope to have her confirmation wrapped up before the May 26 Memorial Day holiday.

“We’re not very happy with healthcare. So who knows? It could be a tough line,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel’s top Republican.

But Hatch questioned the notion that committee Republicans would use the hearing as a platform for election-year attacks on Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law. “Some might think it so. But I’m not sure that I’m going to do that,” he said.

Republicans insist the unpopular law known as Obamacare remains front and center in their campaign to take control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections. But they have been unexpectedly reticent in their criticism during what some analysts say could be their last chance before the ballot to grill a top administration official about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“The GOP isn’t backing off. But once you get past the public’s overall opposition to ACA, their views are nuanced: they want it fixed. And Republicans are struggling mightily on the ground to come up with a fix,” said Bill Pierce, a healthcare official under former President George W. Bush.

Republican officials say their campaign has always needed a wider focus including issues such as the economy, jobs and energy as well as Obamacare.

A House Republican aide said a new spate of healthcare hearings could be expected when Obamacare insurance premiums for 2015 come to light in the coming months.

Another reason for the more conciliatory Republican tone appears to be Burwell herself. She has been meeting privately with individual senators, Republican and Democratic, to discuss issues important to the lawmakers and their states. Those meetings led to some favorable public responses from Republicans at last week’s hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“She and I have sat down, and we agreed that she’s going to support the president’s position and she’s agreed that I’m going to be vehemently opposed to it – and that we’re going to focus on everything else where we can work together,” said Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who sits on both the HELP and finance panels. He announced last week that he will vote to send her nomination to the Senate floor.

Supporters credit Burwell with being able to find common ground with a wide variety of working partners, despite political barriers. Republicans say that helps separate her from outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whom they have described as arrogant and aloof in her dealings with Congress.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan and Bernard Orr)

Recent Headlines

in Local

Sangamon Co. Judge Declares Pension Overhaul Unconstitutional; State Will Appeal

Fresh
state_capitol_1

Illinois has the worst-funded state pension systems in the U.S., with a roughly $100 billion shortfall.

in Local

Illinois Killer’s Extradition Pending with Missouri Governor

jail

A Missouri prosecutor says convicted Illinois killer Nicholas Sheley's extradition paperwork remains with Gov. Jay Nixon.

in Local

Wind Farm Could Be Headed to Logan County

wind turbine

$390 million project will bring renewable energy

in Local

Potential ALPLM Separation on Hold

Lincoln Presidential Museum

The chair of a state committee says lawmakers should wait for an outside study before considering plans to separate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from a state agency.

in Local

Springfield Woman Faces More DUI Charges in Crash That Killed Two

ANDREA LITTLE 102052

Faces 11 counts in the deaths from a fatal October crash