News

Burwell takes Obamacare hot seat before Senate panel

Burwell takes Obamacare hot seat before Senate panel

HEALTHCARE: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the widely respected White House budget director, who got a cordial reception from both Republicans and Democrats at her first hearing last week, Photo: Associated Press

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 Mathews Burwell.

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 Republican.

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 as Obamacare.

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.

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 Bernard Orr)

Latest Headlines

55 mins ago in Local

Slippery Road Hinders Fire Attack

Fresh
FIRE DEPARTMENT2

The New Gloucester Fire & Rescue was dispatched to a reported structure fire at 3:54pm Monday.

11 hours ago in Local

Maine Ski Resort Says It Won’t Be Open for School Break

GENERIC SKI LIFT LARGE

The Saddleback ski mountain says it won't be opening for February school break next week.

11 hours ago in Local

Police Charge Woman in Paris Crash That Killed Passenger

GENERIC ACCIDENT

A 32-year-old Maine woman has been charged with manslaughter in connection with a crash that killed her 41-year-old passenger in Paris last month.

15 hours ago in Local

Maine Governor Goes on Attack in State of the State Letter

LEPAGE WELAFRE

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is attacking ``socialists, career politicians and their allies in the media'' in his State of the State address.

15 hours ago in Local

Democrats: Residents Back Bill to Protect Voters at Polls

VIDEOCAM

Maine Democrats say support for a bill to protect voters from intimidation shows the public is on board with a plan to prevent harassment at the polls.

Tweets

  • 54m
  • 11h
  • 11h
  • 12h
  • 15h
  • 15h
  • 16h