Two days after Obama nominated his budget director, Sylvia Mathews
Burwell, to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
Republican lawmakers alleged the new nominee could help the White
House exert political control over Obamacare enrollment numbers and
other data showing how well the reforms are working.
After a disastrous launch last year, the administration's enrollment
drive has surpassed the most optimistic independent forecasts by
signing up 7.5 million people in private health plans through new
online insurance marketplaces.
That number is expected to grow and could approach the 8 million
mark as applicants who were unable to complete the process by the
March 31 deadline continue to sign up through federal and state-run
The results present a challenge for Republicans, who claim Obamacare
is a failure that Americans should reject. They maintain that the
actual number of enrollees could be much smaller than the
administration's total and many have signed up for Obamacare plans
because their original coverage was canceled as a result of the law.
"Burwell is an interesting choice. They know they've got a math
problem with Obamacare and the numbers are not going to work out so
that the program is actuarially sound," Representative Marsha
Blackburn said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program.
"They're going to have to have somebody to kind of spin the numbers
and this is something ... I think they're expecting her to be able
to do for them," added Blackburn, a senior Republican on the House
Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees healthcare issues.
TOUGHER FIGHT IN SENATE?
Burwell, who would succeed outgoing Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the public face of Obamacare, needs
to be confirmed by the Senate before she can start the job. She
sailed through the Senate last year for her current job as director
of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with a 96-0
But Republicans say things may not be so easy this time.
"There is no doubt she was a good choice for OMB. That does not
necessarily make her a good choice for HHS," Republican Senator Tim
Scott of South Carolina told "Fox News Sunday."
"Will the next secretary have Americans' (interests) first, or will
they have the administration's policies and try to carry the water
for the president?" he said.
"We are going to have an opportunity to discuss with Director
Burwell her approach to making sure that the American people are the
primary objective and not politics," Scott added.
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Republicans hope to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in
November's midterm elections and see Obamacare's unpopularity as a
key lever for attracting independent swing voters and turning out
their own base.
But the strong enrollment results have revived Obama's fellow
Democrats, who now hope the impending change in leadership at HHS
will begin a new chapter for the law and help stave off blistering
"It probably is a good thing to have a new face going forward,"
Democratic U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said on
"Fox News Sunday."
Sebelius, whose tumultuous five-year term became overshadowed by
last year's botched rollout, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that she
made the decision to step down and told Obama in March, after the
enrollment effort had bounced back and was meeting its targets.
"The site actually worked, and the great thing is there's a market
behind the site that works even better. People have competitive
choices and real information for the first time ever in this
insurance market," she said.
Blackburn scoffed at the idea that Sebelius' resignation would quell
Republican opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
"No, it's not going to quiet the controversy, I think it's quite the
opposite," the Tennessee Republican said. "What it has done is to
elevate some of the concerns."
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Sarah Lynch;
Jim Loney and Meredith Mazzilli)
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