Republicans, who are seeking to take control of the
Senate in the Nov. 4 congressional elections, view a pair of Senate
hearings for Burwell as their best chance to put a spotlight on
Obamacare since the program's botched rollout in October.
Burwell's first hearing is scheduled for May 8 before the Senate
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She is expected to
testify later before the Senate Finance Committee at a date yet to
Republican strategists say the more dramatic moments in the
hearings, where Burwell will face a litany of tough questions from
Republican lawmakers, could yield rich material for television ads
and social media campaigns.
“Ultimately, it may be Republicans’ only opportunity, certainly
before the end of the summer and maybe before the election, to have
a senior administration official available to answer these
questions,” said Lanhee Chen, who advised Republican presidential
nominee Mitt Romney on domestic policy during the 2012 campaign. One
Republican aim is to trip up the 48-year-old White House budget
director and force embarrassing slip under the glare of the
"One gaffe and they lose the news cycle," a Republican Party
Obamacare is the No. 1 issue for Republicans in the November
elections. While opinion polls show that most Americans dislike the
law, the party needs to keep the intensity of its attacks high to
turn out key electoral blocs including the Republican faithful,
senior citizens and conservative-leaning independents.
FOCUS ON ALL 'DISASTERS'
"The confirmation process is likely to focus on all of the Obamacare-related
disasters," said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman with the National
Republican Senatorial Committee.
For the benefit of independent voters, Burwell will be grilled about
tax penalties for individuals and businesses that fail to comply
with the law's coverage mandates, as well as the canceled insurance
plans that Republicans say belie Obama's pledge that people would be
able to keep their health plans.
For senior citizens, a dependably major presence in midterm
elections, there will be questions that showcase Republican charges
that Obamacare represents a danger to Medicare benefits. Republicans
boast that the same message helped them to victory in a special
congressional election in March in Florida, where Republican David
Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a district with a large elderly
Republicans also intend to use the hearings to pressure vulnerable
Democrats into breaking ranks with the White House by voting against
the Obama nominee, joining an expected majority of Republican
senators. This week, Louisiana's five Republican congressmen called
on Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu to place a hold on the Burwell
nomination — a largely symbolic gesture intended to delay a final
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Republican officials, Senate aides and lobbyists say the party's aim
is not to prevent Burwell's confirmation, or attack her directly.
She is viewed by both sides as a capable public servant and is
widely expected to be confirmed by a divided chamber.
"Cursorily, she looks very good to me. But she's going to have to
answer some really tough questions is all I can say. And I'll have
plenty of questions," said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top
Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
For weeks, Republicans have looked on with frustration while Obama
and his Democratic allies enjoyed a run of upbeat news on Obamacare.
More than 8 million people have signed up for private health
coverage, a performance that surpassed the most optimistic
forecasts. Instead of the feared sticker shock on premiums, the cost
of insurance in new Obamacare marketplaces has been lower than
expected, as is anticipated federal spending.
Administration officials say Burwell's nomination could also start a
new, less-polarizing chapter in the law's four-year history, if she
is confirmed as the replacement for Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned in April.
Analysts say none of this has put Republicans on the defensive.
Forty-six percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Obamacare,
versus 38 percent who favor it, according to polling data from the
nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in April. In states where
Democratic Senate candidates face tough contests opposition runs as
high as 60 percent.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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