Why Burwell is sailing to confirmation

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Sylvia Burwell’s confirmation process to lead the Department of Health and Human Services has been unusually smooth. 

While some Republicans are expected to oppose her on the floor in early June, at least as many others have showered her with glowing praise. 

{mosads}The current White House budget director can thank filibuster reform, which gave Senate Democrats the ability to approve her nomination with a simple majority vote. 

Burwell is also benefitting from a wave of good news for the healthcare law, which has led Republicans to tone down their rhetoric. 

But it is also clear from her appearances that many Republicans simply like Burwell and want her to lead HHS.  

Here are the top five reasons that GOP lawmakers have been so friendly to President Obama’s healthcare pick. 

1) Private-sector experience

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Burwell spent a good portion of her career managing billion-dollar private philanthropy budgets. 

This experience alone gives her immediate credibility with GOP lawmakers wary of public officials whose experience is exclusive to government. 

In addition to top roles at the Wal-mart Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Burwell spent time with McKinsey & Co. as a management consultant. 

Republicans see these arenas as training grounds for good managers. 

“She’s qualified, and I think she’s a very good worker,” Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Friday. “So I’m pleased that she’s willing to do this.”

“It’s a terrible job. It’s just terrible,” he added.

2) Budget expertise

Burwell currently serves as head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where she is in charge of articulating Obama’s fiscal vision and carrying out his policies. 

In the Clinton administration, she also held a variety of economic roles, including deputy OMB director, chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and staff director for the National Economic Council. 

As a result, her grasp of the federal budget is expansive. Republicans respect this experience and Burwell’s ability to talk hard numbers. 

3) Outreach skills

During ObamaCare’s implementation, lawmakers frequently complained that the White House was leaving them in the dark. 

Tensions rose further after Republicans accused HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of misleading them during her visits to Capitol Hill.  

White House officials knew that with Burwell, they could not start off on the wrong foot. 

So she launched a coordinated outreach campaign that gave Republicans a chance to air their concerns, particularly about ObamaCare. 

This kind of effort is not unusual for cabinet nominees, but Republicans said Burwell approached her meetings with a humility that helped strengthen ties. 

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) called her a “great listener” in a special appearance before the Senate Finance Committee, which was considering her nomination. 

“That’s a characteristic too often that we don’t see as members of Congress in members of an administration, whether they are Republican or Democrat,” Coburn said. 

4) Appearance of nonpartisanship

The last quality Republicans want in an HHS secretary is political gamesmanship. Early in her tenure, Sebelius came to be seen as a partisan operator, hampering her relationships with the GOP. 

Burwell disagrees with most Republican stances on healthcare policy. 

She quietly parried attacks on ObamaCare and dismissed GOP assumptions about the law in her two confirmation hearings. 

But Burwell works hard to be seen as a practical manager rather than an ideologue. Her focus on the nuts and bolts of policy goes a long way toward keeping lines of communication open with Obama’s critics. 

5) West Virginia roots

A graduate of both Harvard and Oxford, Burwell has sterling Beltway credentials and many elite ties in government and industry. 

But lawmakers love to point out that she hails from Hinton, West Virginia, a town with fewer than 3,000 residents. 

The fact came up repeatedly in confirmation hearings as evidence of her dependability and levelheadedness. 

“She comes to Washington with a lot of common sense,” said Coburn, noting Burwell’s background.  

—Bernie Becker contributed

Tags Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius ObamaCare Sylvia Burwell Sylvia Burwell Tom Coburn
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