approves Burwell as health secretary
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[June 06, 2014]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on
Thursday confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell as President Barack Obama's
new health secretary, making her chiefly responsible for implementing
the controversial healthcare law known as Obamacare.
In a 78-17 vote that showed some Republican opposition, lawmakers
approved Burwell as the replacement for U.S. Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who abruptly announced her
resignation in April. She had spearheaded implementation of the law
through five stormy years that included last year's botched rollout
of the federal website, HealthCare.gov. Democrats hope that
Burwell's rise from White House budget director to the helm of the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will mark the beginning
of a new, less contentious chapter in the rollout of Obama's
signature domestic policy.
"She has really shown her capability in her time as the head of the
Office of Management and Budget," Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida
Democrat, said before the vote. "Most people feel like she has
really done an excellent job."
The Affordable Care Act, which is meant to extend health coverage to
millions of uninsured Americans, has become a top issue in the
Republican Party's campaign to take control of the Senate in the
November midterm elections.
Democrats say one of Burwell's biggest tasks will be to keep the law
out of troubled waters until Election Day, despite Republican
attempts to spotlight issues ranging from higher health insurance
premiums and inaccurate federal subsidy allocations, to policy
cancellations for small businesses and crippled state-based
"By most accounts, Sylvia Burwell is a smart and skilled public
servant," said Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell, who voted
against her. "But her embrace of Obamacare calls her policy judgment
But many Republicans voted in favor of Burwell. Senator Orrin Hatch
of Utah said she was well-qualified, though he cautioned that "no
one should mistake that to mean that I have somehow softened in my
resolve against Obamacare."
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Burwell, a powerful member of the Obama West Wing's upper echelon,
will also assume responsibility for a host of non-Obamacare
challenges including funding and staff shortages and low moral
across a sprawling cabinet-level department that regulates
prescription drugs and food safety, combats disease outbreaks and
oversees biomedical research.
The new HHS secretary's supporters say she is perfect for the job: a
seasoned problem-solver known for her ability to engage with people
of diverse interests and produce acceptable decisions under
Burwell will need to act quickly to persuade health insurers to
restrain premium increases on Obamacare plans that would be sold in
the federal marketplace next year. The deadline for plan submissions
is June 27. The new HHS secretary was confirmed last year as White
House budget director by a 96-0 vote.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson and David Morgan; Editing by Bill
Trott and Richard Chang)
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