The confirmation process for President Obama’s choice for the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) began last week. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on Thursday, May 8 for the first of two Senate confirmation hearings.
Following opening statements from Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced Burwell to the committee. Burwell faced few tough questions during the two hour hearing, with the focus primarily on concerns around implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Senators from both parties noted for the record Burwell’s competence and qualifications for the post. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pressed Burwell on funding for the Health Centers program in light of the funding cliff faced in FY2016. Burwell responded, “Being from a rural place in the U.S., I actually understand the role of Community Health Centers in places like the one I grew up in. I believe it’s an important part of our system. It’s an important part in terms of prevention, in terms of treatment, as well as efficient and effective health care in terms of cost.” Sen. Sanders further pressed Burwell by asking her to fight for continued funding to avert the cliff. Citing the President’s FY2015 budget request Burwell responded, “Senator, you do. The budget that we put together is the first step in that process.”
The Senate confirmed Burwell as OMB Director last year by a vote of 96-0. She will face a second confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Finance, which shares jurisdiction over HHS, Wednesday, May 14. The hearing can be viewed live on the Finance Committee’s website.