Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday called on Republicans to confirm Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell quickly as the next secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"Director Burwell deserves timely confirmation, and I hope my Republican colleagues will work with us to ensure we fill this important position without unnecessary obstruction and delay," Reid said.
"I strongly support the president's choice of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the Health and Human Services Department," Reid said. "She was unanimously confirmed last April to head the Office of Management and Budget, where she has proven to be an extremely effective leader who is able to work constructively with both Democrats and Republicans."
Last year, the Senate unanimously confirmed Burwell to the OMB, but it may not go that smoothly this time around. On Friday, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in a statement he would consider her with an "open mind," but then indicated he has questions about her qualifications.
"Ms. Burwell has a comparatively thin resume for the demands now placed on this position — she has never run anything on the scale of HHS — and, during her short stint as budget director, she did more to obscure the nation’s poor financial state than to illuminate it," he said.
Nominations fights have opened deep partisan rifts in the Senate. Last year, Senate Democrats unilaterally changed Senate rules to bypass filibusters of nominees, allowing them to advance most with a simple majority rather than 60 votes.
Republicans have complained this rule change greatly undermined minority party rights in the Senate, and have retaliated by forcing the Senate to use the maximum time allowed before holding final votes on Obama's nominees. Just this week, Republicans delayed two other nominations that Reid had hoped to finish this week, but decided to put off until after the recess.
Burwell will have to go through the committee process before her nomination will reach the Senate floor. The Senate will also be out of town for the next two weeks during the spring recess, so her nomination won’t be considered until next month. Sebelius has said she would stay on at HHS until a replacement is confirmed.
Reid said Sebelius would leave behind a legacy because of her implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' legacy will reside in the millions of uninsured who are now able to access affordable health insurance," Reid said. "And it will reside in those who will receive better, more affordable care than they did in the days when insurance companies could deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or charge women more than men for the same care."