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HHS Sec. Nominee Burwell Faces 'Cordial' First Hearing

HHS Sec. Nominee Burwell Faces 'Cordial' First Hearing

May 9, 2014 — White House Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama's nominee for HHS Secretary, on Thursday received bipartisan praise during the first of two Senate confirmation hearings, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee reports.

According to McClatchy/Bee, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced Burwell to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and "set the tone for the unusually cordial session." McCain called the position a thankless job that needs "competent leadership." Meanwhile, Manchin described Burwell as a dear friend whom he "recommend[s] ... wholeheartedly" (Pugh, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 5/8).

During the hearing, Burwell fielded several questions about the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) (Radnofsky/Hughes, Wall Street Journal, 5/8).

According to the Washington Post, Burwell avoided answering Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) question about extending health plans that do not comply with the ACA and offered a "diplomatic" answer to his second question about states that had declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Specifically, Burwell said that she thinks "flexibility" and "principles" are important, and "where you meet in that space is enough standardization that meets the principles but flexibility to meet the varied needs of states."

Further, Burwell called's initial technical problems "unacceptable" and said she would prioritize addressing any continuing or new issues (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 5/8).

Next Steps

Burwell's next hearing is before the Senate Finance Committee, with her nomination proceeding to the full Senate if the committee approves. Because of changes in the chamber's filibuster rules, Democrats will be able to confirm her with a simple majority, eliminating the need for Republican votes (Levey, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/8).