Takes Obamacare Hot Seat Before Senate Finance Panel
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[May 14, 2014]
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
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
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
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.
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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
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