Top healthcare nominee garners bipartisan praise

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"I don't think there's any secret that I differ with the Obama administration on a number of matters of healthcare policy … but if there is anyone that I trust to try and navigate that challenge, it is Marilyn Tavenner," Cantor said.

He praised her experience as a nurse, hospital executive and top healthcare official in Virginia. Tavenner was "a force to be reckoned with" when dealing with the state legislature and also "somebody who was there to speak on behalf of patients," Cantor said.

Tavenner would be the first confirmed CMS administrator in six years. The post has been filled on an interim or acting basis largely because it was seen as politically controversial — and politics helped scuttle Tavenner's initial nomination last year.

But even amid the lingering partisanship of the ObamaCare debate, Tavenner appeared on track for a bipartisan confirmation Tuesday.

"I'm proud of you, I'm proud of the work you've done," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — a fierce critic of the healthcare law — told Tavenner as he moved into a series of cordial questions.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he appreciated Tavenner's sincere commitment to address an apparent leak of sensitive information about Medicare payment rates. A political intelligence firm preempted CMS's announcement, on an issue where official announcements are usually held until after the stock market closes.

"I think you'd make a fine administrator, and I'd like to be able to support your confirmation," Grassley said.