Oppose Sylvia Mathews Burwell's Nomination

Barack Obama, Sylvia Mathews Burwell

In a relatively short period of time, the US Senate will be asked to confirm OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. It should refuse to do so.


Despite the risible claim of “wonk” Ezra Klein, Kathleen Sebelius did not leave HHS because Obamacare was secure. Rather, she left because her political career was mortally wounded by her association with it. Obamacare will be a huge issue in the 2014 mid-term elections and more likely than not it will dominate the 2016 campaign.


HHS is a huge agency, it has over 76,000 direct employees, approximately the same number of contractor, and a budget of over $940 billion. Only five states have a larger budget.

In terms of management and leadership, it is hard to imagine anyone being confirmed to lead HHS with a thinner resume than Ms. Burwell. She has bounced from one lefty foundation to another since serving in the Clinton administration. None of these jobs have required skills beyond the craftiness one associates with political hacks in lefty foundations.

The pinnacle of her management experience was as director of OMB. There she had just over 500 employees and a budget of $93 million, and has barely clocked a year on the job. A quick calculation shows that her budget was almost totally composed of salary and benefits, something she did not have to manage.


This is the equivalent of elevating an Army officer from command of a battalion to four-star rank overnight with no training. It can be done, it cannot be done well.

Partisan hack

To be charitable, Ms. Burwell is a run of the mill partisan hack. She is a political loyalist who will do whatever she is told without question. She is the quintessential “little Eichmann” needed by any politician who has contempt for the rule of law. In other words, she is a perfect fit for the Obama administration just as she was for the Clinton administration.

Burwell first came to public attention during the Whitewater investigation, where she was questioned about her interference with the police investigation of Vince Foster and testified about what she found while rooting around in Foster’s garbage cans.

During the government shutdown in October 2013, Ms. Burwell was the architect behind the Obama administration strategy of making the shutdown as painful as possible on the average American. Those World War II veterans whose visit to the National Mall was ruined by the Park Service erecting barriers around open air monuments can thank Ms. Burwell.

What this means, of course, is that Congress will continue to be lied to about the costs of Obamacare, the performance of Healthcare.gov, and the impact of Obamacare. Ms. Burwell has had a hand in developing the political balderdash the OMB has generated as Obamacare cost estimates and has done so without a hint of protest. Now she will control even more of the information.


Any undertakings she makes during her confirmation hearing must be viewed as mere evasions.

The Implementation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)

Ms. Burwell will undoubtedly oversee the implementation of the IPAB. This is the “death panel” that Sarah Palin presciently warned us about. For a fuller discussion of this read Michael Cannon’s More Reasons Why IPAB, ObamaCare’s ‘Death Panel,’ Is Relevant To Sylvia Burwell’s Nomination.

Whether by design or by accident, IPAB can impose taxes, appropriate funds, and ration care – with virtually no oversight from Congress, the president, the courts, or voters. As HHS Secretary, Burwell could come to wield IPAB’s sweeping powers unilaterally.

An Exercise In Damage Control

It has often been noted that Presidents choose strong cabinet secretaries in areas in which the have no interest and weak ones where they intend to place emphasis so that White House staff will not encounter push back. This is especially true as various court challenges to Obamacare mature, particularly those involving the patently illegal evasion of deadlines mandated by the legislation. By moving the decisionmaking process on Obamacare into the White House, Obama will be able to avoid both oversight hearings and Congressional demands for documents.


Bottom Line

Ms. Burwell is unqualified by experience, education, training, and temperament to be secretary of HHS. She is a partisan loyalist who has a record of blindly and mutely doing what the boss wants done. Her function at HHS will be to stonewall Congress and do what she is told to do. Too much is at stake to play the go-along-get-along game Senator John McCain has advocated. While there is slim chance she can be defeated, her nomination must be vigorously opposed.


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