Republicans Target Burwell in Obamacare War
Policy + Politics

Republicans Target Burwell in Obamacare War

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

When President Obama nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell to succeed former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, many assumed the former budget director would breeze through her Senate confirmation. But now two Senate Republicans are looking to shake things up and turn Burwell’s confirmation process into yet another fight over the president’s health care law…shocker!

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, the Tea Party darlings who orchestrated last fall’s government shutdown, sent a letter to the HHS secretary on Friday—calling to delay Burwell’s confirmation until the administration provides more information about Obamacare enrollment numbers and the law’s implementation.

Related: Looks Like the GOP Obamacare Plan is Dead

Republicans have been skeptical of the White House’s enrollment numbers for months. The Obama administration says more than 8 million people have enrolled, but some GOP lawmakers say the real number of people actually getting coverage through the exchanges is much lower, since the figures don’t reflect how many people have paid their first month’s premiums. The Obama administration has not provided those figures yet.

During her two confirmation hearings GOP lawmakers were quick to challenge Burwell about the numbers, to which, like other administration officials, Burwell pointed to insurers’ estimates that about 80 to 90 percent have paid for their plans. Cruz and Lee, however, were unsatisfied with her response, which prompted the letter.

“So far, Ms. Burwell’s testimony has been less than forthcoming and suggests she plans to follow the lead of her predecessor in blocking Congress’s ability to do proper oversight for the America people,” the senators said in a statement. “The questions we propose in the letter have not only been asked repeatedly, but deal with issues she should have been prepared to answer at her hearings but did not.” 

Though Burwell is expected to be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, the GOP lawmakers will make waves in order to call attention to the law’s rocky rollout ahead of the midterm elections.

Related: Senators on Botched Obamacare Websites: You Break It, You Bought It

The move comes on the heels of a separate letter from Republican Sens. Orin Hatch and Chuck Grassley demanding answers from the administration regarding failed state health care insurance exchange websites.

So far, at least four largely inoperable state websites – in Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada and Oregon – have cost the federal government $4 billion. That number is expected to rise as the states spend more money to replace or rebuild the bad sites.

Senate Republicans have also sponsored legislation that would require states to reimburse the federal government the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent to build the failed websites.

The letters and legislation is a part of the GOP’s strategy to continue putting heat on Obamacare throughout the midterm elections.

Related: Obamacare Contractor Pays Employees to Do Nothing

Republican strategists suggest that GOP candidates should continue campaigning against Obamacare—attacking it as much as possible since the majority of Americans still view the law unfavorably. The latest Pew poll showed a record high 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the law.

GOP strategist, John Freehery, president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and a former spokesperson for then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said Republicans “should do everything they can to talk about the flaws in the law specifically.” “Keep the focus on Obamacare.”

Others say simply attacking the law isn’t enough. 

GOP strategist Brian Gottlieb of Purple Strategies said Republicans need to zero in on an alternative to the president’s health care law. 

“It would be smart for the GOP to offer an Obamacare alternative. Republicans need to be the party of ideas and solutions and they need to prevent the Democrats from branding the GOP as the No Party,” Gottlieb said. “An alternative needs to be exactly that -- an alternative that repeals the existing law and starts over. The GOP base won't stand for a revision of the current law.” 

Republicans earlier in the year vowed to offer their Obamacare alternative—but that has since faded, after millions began getting insurance under the new law. Now it appears that they will be going with the attack dog strategy—at least until after the midterms.

“I think one of the most unfortunate things my party did the last three years was not offer an alternative to health care…. I wish we had an alternative,” Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) told constituents last week. “For the next six months, we’re going to go into an election, knowing that we’re not going to do anything to address health care.”

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