Sylvia Matthews Burwell Faces Her First Confirmation Hearing For HHS Secretary

May 8, 2014

West Virginia native Sylvia Matthews Burwell faced questions from Senators Thursday during her first hearing to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Credit Jean Snedegar

A few republicans on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions made their dislike of the Affordable Care Act- or Obamacare as they called it- known with questions about  last fall’s rocky web site rollout, whether the numbers of enrollees are accurate and whether the deadline for the individual mandate should be extended. But for the most part Republicans seemed to be receptive to Burwell heading Health and Human Service with North Carolina Senator Richard Burr giving an outright endorsement.

“It’s because she doesn’t come with a single experience that would make her a good secretary, she comes with a portfolio of experience that would make her a tremendous asset in addressing some of the challenges that that agency specifically and uniquely has," Burr said. Burwell was introduced to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions by Arizona Republican John McCain and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.
 

In his comments, McCain pointed to Burwell’s success at running the Walmart Foundation, saying he believes Burwell has the qualifications to run HHS and will be more responsive to Congress than current Secretary Kathleen Sibelius has been. McCain told the committee he advised Burwell, who currently manages the Office of Management and Budget, to turn down the nomination.

“After all who would recommend their friend take over as captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg?" McCain quipped. "Obviously she ignored my advice and accepted the nomination anyway continuing her pattern of public service.”

In recommending Burwell, McCain pointed out if she gets the job Burwell will oversee an agency that has a $1 trillion budget and 80,000 employees.

Not all the questions and comments directed at Burwell were about the Affordable Care Act.

Senators from all parties engaged her in discussion about other HHS responsibilities like early childhood education programs, National Institutes of Health research, regulating the amount of salt in the food supply, federal regulation of e-cigarettes and maintaining support for community health centers.

Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski discussed the fact that quite a few HHS facilities are located in her state.

"I need a chief executive officer, we need someone who will bring executive skills to this job," Mikulski said.

The committee that had this hearing will not vote on the nomination. The next step is a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, which will take a vote. The full Senate will ultimately weigh in on the nomination.