President Obama will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius announced that she is stepping down yesterday.
Here’s some good background on Burwell from Dan Diamond at the Advisory Group. Burwell is a former McKinsey consultant (has every power broker in D.C. done a stint there?) who more recently worked in an executive-level position at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from 2001-2011 and as president of the Walmart Foundation from 2011-2013. Burwell then became director of OMB in April of 2013; she had previously served as OMB’s deputy director for three years under President Clinton, during which time she often butted heads with congressional Republicans over Clinton’s budgets. A West Virginia native, the 48-year-old Burwell, was educated at Harvard and Oxford.
Burwell’s track record in health care is not well-established, although she previously served as a board member of the University of Washington Medical Center. Burwell also hinted at some of her health care views in her Senate confirmation hearings last year, touting the value of electronic health records—specifically, their positive impact on “quality of care and cost savings”—and her hesitation when Republican senators asked her if Medicare needed major reforms.
It sounds like Burwell’s biggest selling point is her management skills, likely an error of particular concern to the administration after Sebelius was heavily criticized for her role in the management of healthcare.gov‘s rollout (not just the rocky launch, which turned out to be a relative blip in the implementation of the health care law, but the fact that Sebelius didn’t know that the disaster was coming, which meant the Obama administration didn’t know either).
Another selling point: Burwell breezed through her last Senate confirmation, 96-0. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this confirmation hearing may be a little more contentious. Will Republicans politicize a nomination at the center of managing Obamacare? Does the sun rise in the morning? Does a bear turd in the woods?
Five months ago, this would have led to a dreadful drag-out fight with Republicans using the filibuster to wreak havoc. But last November, Senate Democrats changed the rules, ending the filibuster for executive and judicial nominations (save Supreme Court nominations). Republicans will do a whole lot of howling, in other words, but all Burwell’s confirmation needs is 51 Democrats. One question of local political interest: what will Sen. Mark Pryor do? They probably won’t need his vote if he wants to join Republicans and vote down the confirmation. It is very, very hard to think of any good reason why he would do that. But Pryor has been hunting for anything to distance himself from Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Maybe this would do the ticket, although if Sylvia Matthews Burwell is your bogeyman, you’re really reaching.
By the way, you might remember that Pryor was one of three Senate Democrats who voted against changing the filibuster rules back in November.
p.s. What’s the Sebelius legacy? I think a lot of that depends on how things turn out with Obamacare in the coming years, but Jonathan Cohn’s take: “one epic tech failure, millions of newly insured Americans.”