WASHINGTON — Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former Walmart Foundation president nominated to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is expected to be a new lightning rod over the Affordable Care Act.
Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was named by President Obama to succeed Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned as HHS secretary in the aftermath of the ACA’s rocky rollout.
The 48-year-old Burwell earlier worked for President Clinton on the National Economic Council and in the Treasury Department. Prior to heading the Walmart Foundation, she was chief operating officer and head of global development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she focused on global health issues, often with government and international organizations.
“Sylvia has a strong record of working collaboratively with businesses and government on some of the most pressing issues facing Americans,” says Walmart president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon. “She understands the needs of people and communities and has consistently delivered strong results that have a positive impact on society. It’s crucial to have a leader like Sylvia in this role, and we stand ready to work with the administration on solutions that provide more Americans with even greater access to affordable health care.”
Obama called Burwell “a proven manager who has demonstrated her ability to field great teams, forge strong relationships and deliver excellent results at the highest levels.”
He called on the Senate — which unanimously approved Burwell to be OMB director — to confirm her rapidly.
Her prospects were considered to be good, mainly because of a change in confirmation rules last year. Most executive and judicial nominees can now get past procedural roadblocks with just 51 votes, instead of the 60 frequently needed previously. Sebelius is believed to have remained in her job after faltering in part because the old rules would have allowed the Senate’s 45 Republicans to block any successor.
Some GOP leaders, including Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), praised Burwell, while others said her confirmation will raise issues over the health care reform law. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees HHS, said she “must outline how she will right the wrongs of this misguided law,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Another senator said Republicans would use the confirmation hearing to get more information on the ACA, but dismissed the idea that the proceeding would be a bruising partisan fight.
“The question is will the next secretary put the interests of Americans first, or the policies of the president,” Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) told “Fox News Sunday.”
He said the hearing will provide a chance to discuss final ACA enrollment figures and related issues, but noted, “We’re going to keep the focus on the American people, not politics.”
But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) told Fox the hearings will be another opportunity for his party to herald ACA successes. “This law has been immensely helpful to people across the country,” he said. “We can tell true stories, human stories.”
Sebelius’ time in the administration began well but turned tumultuous after the bungled introduction of the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange. While there have been calls for her resignation for months, the White House says she was not pushed out.