GOP tells Obama's HHS pick: 'Don't disappear'

GOP tells Obama's HHS pick: 'Don't disappear'
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans sharpened their attacks on the Obama administration Wednesday while considering Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mathews BurwellOvernight Healthcare: GOP chairman to introduce pre-existing condition bill ObamaCare enrollment hits 11.5M for 2017 Obama, Dems eyeing strategy to defend ObamaCare MORE's nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

While the hearing was largely friendly to Burwell, GOP members of the Finance Committee repeatedly complained that federal health officials had not been responsive to their inquiries about the healthcare law.

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Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Iowa) called out Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Marilyn Tavenner by name.

Grassley said Tanner "seems to have gone into the witness protection program," Grassley told Burwell. "It's been so long since she was last in the chair or at my door. I hope you don't disappear into the same bunker."

Sens. Pat RobertsPat RobertsDems mock House GOP over lack of women in healthcare meeting Perdue vows to be chief salesman for US agriculture abroad GOP senator apologizes for mammogram joke MORE (R-Kan.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Finance: US preps cases linking North Korea to Fed heist | GOP chair says Dodd-Frank a 2017 priority | Chamber pushes lawmakers on Trump's trade pick | Labor nominee faces Senate US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Utah), the panel's ranking member, also told Burwell she should respond quickly to lawmakers' questions if she is confirmed.

The questions underscored the frayed relationship between Republican senators and federal health officials, including outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusSebelius on GOP healthcare plan: 'I'm not sure what the goal is here' Obama's health secretary to be first female president of American University Leaked email: Podesta pushed Tom Steyer for Obama’s Cabinet MORE, over the rollout of ObamaCare.

The comments also produced a more serious confirmation hearing for Burwell compared to a a separate review held last week by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Still, Burwell appeared headed for an easy confirmation after receiving effusive praise from both sides of the aisle.

The Finance Committee will vote on her nomination in a later hearing, and after that, Senate Democrats will have more than enough votes to confirm her on the floor.

"She's competent," said Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnDon't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC Coburn: Trump's tweets aren't presidential The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (R-Okla.), who made a special cameo appearance Wednesday to introduce Burwell before her testimony.

"She has an outstanding character, and I've experienced that … She's a great listener, and she comes to Washington with a lot of common sense."

Burwell now leads the White House budget office and was nominated to lead HHS after Sebelius announced in April that she would step down.

While no Republican questioned her qualifications, several of them used the hearing to press Burwell about the healthcare law.

Sen. Mike CrapoMike CrapoSenators war over Wall Street during hearing for Trump's SEC pick Overnight Finance: Biz groups endorse Trump's Labor pick | New CBO score coming before health bill vote | Lawmakers push back on public broadcasting cuts Senate Banking panel seeks proposals for economic growth MORE (R-Idaho) urged Burwell to support reversing ObamaCare's cuts to private Medicare Advantage plans. "The question of the additional changes need to be monitored and watched," Burwell replied.

In another, Crapo asked if she would extend the current "keep your plan" fix for another year, allowing people to maintain health coverage that does not meet ObamaCare's minimum coverage requirements.

"I think we have made all the decisions and announcements that will take us through the next enrollment season," Burwell said. "One of the things that is important is how we do common-sense implementation that works for people."

Republicans did manage to secure a promise from Burwell that she would support using the "full extent of the law" to pull back funds misused in the botched rollout of some state-based exchanges.

"We have to understand what went wrong, we need to go to the full extent of the law if there are contractors or others that have misled [the government], to fully recover [the money]," Burwell said.

The comment follows the introduction of Republican legislation Wednesday demanding that state officials who hand control of their exchanges to HealthCare.gov repay the federal government any funds used to create the original, flawed enrollment systems.

— This story was updated at 5:12 p.m.