Let’s start at the top: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Barack Obama’s selected successor for outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, will — barring something unforeseen — eventually be confirmed.
The elimination of the filibuster for confirmation votes by Senate Democrats ensures it. They don’t need a single Republican to sign off on her, though Burwell was already confirmed unanimously last year to head the Office of Management and Budget and several top Senate Republicans have endorsed her nomination.
But there are going to be some troublemakers who use the confirmation of the next person charged with overseeing Obamacare to raise hell, much as they did last fall, about the law. Their options might be limited, but they have some: The background investigation that precedes a confirmation hearing, the hearing itself, the floor vote during which members can place a hold on a nomination for almost any reason at all.
Whether that’s a wise choice or not is up for debate. White House officials emphasized, almost to the point of exhaustion, Burwell’s unanimous confirmation as OMB director. And the American public, it also bears repeating, seems to be tiring of the Obamacare debate altogether, according to recent polls.
“People don’t spend a lot of time out in the country thinking about who’s heading departments here,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a briefing Friday. “That polarization existed when the president had a number of nominees to cabinet positions confirmed in the last year. … What I will note that the Senate confirmed her to a cabinet position, a very important one, unanimously a year ago.”
But that doesn’t mean the GOP won’t try to use Burwell’s confirmation as an excuse to remind voters of all the problems they see in the law, especially after Obamacare has gone through a recent patch of uncharacteristically good news since it hit 7 million sign-ups at its enrollment deadline.
“Secretary Sebelius may be leaving, but the problems with this law and the impact it’s having on our constituents aren’t. Obamacare has to go, too,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement as the news broke. And regarding Burwell’s nomination, he added: “I hope this is the start of a candid conversation about Obamacare’s short-comings.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared open to the idea, unrealistic as it might be, of using the confirmation process as a vehicle to somehow, someway, achieve his dream of repealing Obamacare. “I think Burwell presents an ideal opportunity to examine the failures that are Obamacare,” he told Fox News Friday. “We need to start over, repeal every word of it.”
While those statements might sound like the typical political bombast, Senate GOP aides, granted anonymity to discuss their party’s thinking on what comes next for Burwell, didn’t seem convinced by the Obama administration’s argument that she should be able to sail through the confirmation process just because she went through one before.
“Burwell was confirmed unanimously, sure, but to play a different sport altogether,” one aide said. “You can bet Senate Republicans will be interested in how she plans to oversee the implementation of the President’s broken law and whether she’s willing to admit that reality and work with Congress to address it.”
They did agree that Burwell would eventually be confirmed, but indicated that the process will be an opportunity for Republicans to air their many grievances against Obamacare.
“Burwell is obviously a new face to try and spin the failures of the law, but the problems of the law are the problems of the law,” another Republican aide said. “I think she’ll get confirmed pretty easily, but the confirmation hearing will be interesting to watch. If she comes out spiking the football and is dismissive of the legitimate concerns raised by Republicans, then it will say a lot about what to expect.”
These GOP excesses will be controlled to some degree by the Democratic majority and their elimination of the filibuster. But Republicans seem intent on using whatever means available to squeeze more blood out of Obamacare.