The departure of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is unlikely to mute Republican criticism of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act between now and the November midterm elections.
“What you're going to see,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” is a continued effort “to repeal it and replace it.”
White House steps to get a new Health and Human Services secretary in place are already facing resistance. Even though Obama quickly announced Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his nominee to replace Sebelius, some Senate Republicans are signaling it might not be a smooth confirmation process for the current Office of Management and Budget director.
“No doubt she was a good choice for OMB,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. “That does not necessarily make her a good choice for HHS.”
The Senate last year confirmed Burwell as head of OMB by a 96-0 vote. She now faces confirmation hearings with two Senate committees including the one Scott sits on.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sebelius said that she’d planned to step down upon completion of the open enrollment period. Earlier this year she told Obama, “I think once we finish this first chapter you really should look for the next secretary who can be here through the rest of your term.
“That really wasn’t a commitment I was willing to make, and he knew that,” she said, adding that it “wasn’t really an option to stay on.” Sebelius also highlighted the administration’s achievements, such as exceeding enrollment estimates set by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Those numbers – 7.5 million enrollees – are being touted by Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelections campaigns. Incumbents supporting Obamacare face fierce opposition from Republican challengers who are criticizing the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov and calling for a repeal of the president’s signature domestic policy achievement.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, dismissed predictions that issues such as Obamacare will drag down his party in the midterm elections.
“There's a tough climate, no question about it,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “I won’t sugar coat it, but the climate has changed. Who knows what the next several months will bring?”
Still, some Republicans question whether the enrollment figures alone will justify continuation of the Affordable Care Act.
“They know they've got a math problem with Obamacare and the numbers are not going to work out that the program is actuarially sound,” Blackburn said. “They're going to have to have somebody to kind of spin the numbers. This is something with Burwell coming from OMB, I think they're expecting her to be able to do for them. How many of these seven million people have paid? How many actually signed up and paid and completed the process? How many got subsidies? How many are on Medicaid? How many are young? You know, if those numbers don't work out exactly right, they've got a big funding issue on their hands.”
Democrats such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island defended Sebelius’s tenure, while adding that Burwell will help improve the public’s impressions of Obamacare.
“She gave a lot of good service to the president and to the country,” Whitehouse said on “Fox News Sunday.” “She was there nearly six years in an extremely tough job, at a very consequential time through the whole health care bill, through the rollout with all its malfunctions. I think it probably is a good thing to have a new face going forward, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell is a very good choice.”
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