By Elise Viebeck - 09/08/14 10:30 AM EDT
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mathews BurwellHHS projects 13.8M ObamaCare signups for 2017 Republicans demand documents from insurers on ObamaCare 'bailout' Top health officials: Funding delay hurt Zika response MORE on Monday called for an end to the strident partisan debates over ObamaCare that have dominated U.S. politics for four years.
"The Affordable Care Act is not about making a point. It's about making progress," she told an audience at George Washington University.
The speech was Burwell's first chance to speak publicly about ObamaCare since she was confirmed by the Senate in early June. She has given no press conferences or interviews so far.
Painting herself as a folksy and no-nonsense leader, the former Clinton administration official repeatedly urged people to move past the "back and forth" over the healthcare law.
"We believe in building bridges, relationships and strong teams that have the talent and focus necessary to deliver results," she said.
"What's central to all this is not politics. It's progress: setting aside the back and forth and instead choosing to move forward."
The remarks signal the Obama administration's desire to start a new chapter for ObamaCare almost one year after the politically disastrous launch of the exchanges.
The speech also comes just months before the law's second enrollment period and the November election, when ObamaCare's unpopularity is expected to boost Republicans in some races.
Burwell did not mention the Nov. 15 start for open enrollment or the election. But she worked to differentiate herself from her predecessor, Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusLeaked email: Podesta pushed Tom Steyer for Obama’s Cabinet Romney: Trump victory 'very possible' Fighting for assisted living facilities MORE, by emphasizing her humble roots and interest in bipartisanship.
"I’ve told my staff that we should work toward the goal of returning the letters we receive from Congress within 30 days — no matter who they’re from," Burwell said, an implicit reference to GOP charges that Sebelius did not answer inquiries.
Sebelius also became a figure of partisan scorn after it was determined that she engaged in an instance of political activity during her tenure, a violation of the Hatch Act.
Burwell arrives at HHS with significantly more goodwill from congressional Republicans, many of whom worked with her as White House budget director under Obama.
She urged more states with GOP governors to follow the lead of Pennsylvania, which recently accepted ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion.
"The fact of the matter is, there are always areas where we can work together," Burwell said.
"The American people are sending a very clear message that they want us to work together on healthcare too."
As part of her effort to introduce herself to the public, Burwell on Monday also joined Twitter at @SecBurwell.
--This report was updated at 11:38 a.m.