The Senate confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell Thursday to replace Katherine Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Burwell received her HHS nomination from President Obama after serving as his head of the Office of Management and Budget for the past year. The Senate, in a show of bipartisan support, voted 78-17 in favor of Burwell.
“Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s nomination has a breadth of bipartisan support because she’s really that good,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., prior to the vote. “She’s really that capable. And she’s really that qualified.”
Despite the Senate’s resounding support of her confirmation, both Democrats and Republicans quickly sought to use Burwell as a pawn in their ongoing battle over the Affordable Care Act.
Many Senate Democrats emphatically supported Burwell as a champion of Obamacare who could breathe new life into the controversial law. But Republicans announced their support with significant reservations and argued she would be fighting for a lost cause.
“The Senate shouldn’t be focusing on a new captain for the Titanic,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It should focus on steering away from the iceberg.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said any nomination to eh HHS post would be set up to fail. “The theme of this law has really been ‘by any means necessary’,” said Grassley.
Rob Portman, R-Ohio, veiled his support with similar concerns.
“I plan to support director Burwell’s nomination today because I think she’s a manager, and I think that’s what we need right now at the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. But Portman cautioned that Burwell’s biggest priority at HHS should be to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted on poor implementation of Obamacare.
“Where the federal government and the taxpayer has had funds misused, we need to use the full extent of the law to get those funds back for the taxpayer,” Burwell said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in May. “One, we have to understand what went wrong. Two, when we do understand that, as I said, we need to go to the full extent of the law, if there are contractors or others who have misled. And three, I think we need to make sure that we both learn from the mistakes of the exchanges that aren’t working and learn from the exchanges that are.”
President Obama applauded Burwell’s confirmation saying he’s “confident Sylvia’s unparalleled experience will serve her well in her new role as she works to ensure the safety of our food and drug supply, protect our nation from outbreaks or bioterror attacks, keep America at the forefront of medical research, and make sure every American has access to quality, affordable healthcare.”