New Obamacare Chief Confirmed With Republican Support

Obama made the announcement of his nomination of Burwell in April. Obama made the announcement of his nomination of Burwell in April. Charles Dharapak/AP

The changing of the guard at the Health and Human Services Department has finished with little to no fireworks.

The Senate voted 78-17 Thursday afternoon to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the next HHS secretary. The final vote followed a procedural vote to end debate on her nomination Wednesday, which passed 67-28.

President Obama announced Burwell's nomination nearly two months ago, along with the resignation of outgoing Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

As head of one of the biggest government agencies, and charged with implementing the still-controversial Affordable Care Act, the Secretary position is a highly politicized one. This became all the more true following the disastrous rollout of the federal enrollment website in October, which had Republicans calling for Sebelius's termination as early as last fall.

Yet Burwell's confirmation process has been surprisingly smooth. The former Office of Management and Budget Director has had the support of several top Republican lawmakers from the beginning, including Sens. John McCain, Tom Coburn, Orrin Hatch, and Richard Burr. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats to advance her nomination to a final vote Wednesday.

A few conservatives, such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, attempted to hold up her nomination and use the vote as a venue to criticize Obamacare. But the efforts did not gain steam among others in their party, and new Senate rules requiring only 51 votes for approval gave Burwell an easy path to confirmation.

"No one should misread my vote today as an acknowledgement that all is well in the world of Obamacare and HHS," Sen. Hatch said Thursday, ahead of the vote. "[But Burwell] has acknowledged, for her part, that problems exist, and is committed to fix those problems. Under this administration, that's probably the best we can hope for." The Utah Senator said he would do all he can to help the Secretary in her new role.

Twenty-four Republicans voted to confirm her nomination Thursday, including Hatch, Lamar Alexander, John Barrasso, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Daniel Coats, Tom Coburn, Susan Collins, Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, and Patrick Toomey.

Both sides have lauded Burwell's willingness to work across the aisle and her effective management style as evidence of her qualification for the position--a crucial skill former administration officials have said Sebelius lacked.

However, the new HHS chief certainly has her work cut out for her. The easy part is over; Burwell will now have to deal with the continued challenges of implementing the health care law--including ongoing technical problems, policy changes, political opposition, and looming premium rate filings--along with other issues that may arise in the department. Lawmakers hope that her willingness to work across the aisle will ease some of these potential roadblocks.

Burwell will be sworn in Monday, according to an HHS aide.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.