The chief of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not back down during a tense back-and-forth with Republicans on Wednesday, declining to offer the Obama administration’s backup plan if a looming Supreme Court case is decided against it.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell did not budge despite a barrage of questions from the two highest-ranking Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee about what the administration would do if ObamaCare subsidies are struck down in 37 states.
“You’re a highly intelligent, charming person, but you've refused to answer our questions, and to me, that doesn't strike me as trying to work with Congress but rather [as] contemptuous of Congress’s responsibilities,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas) said after several minutes of questions.
Burwell repeatedly declined to say whether the administration had a contingency plan for the case, King v. Burwell, arguing that she was focused on issues such as the overall implementation of ObamaCare.
“Right now, my focus is on completing and implementing the law, which we believe is the law,” Burwell repeated to the panel, which was focused on the HHS budget. “Right now, what we’re focused on is the open enrollment.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the committee chairman, who interrupted Burwell as she dodged the questions, said the federal government should have a backup plan in case millions of people lose their subsidies.
“It’s something that I would hope that you’ll get on top of, just as a contingency plan,” Hatch said.
Cornyn took a harder stance during his questioning. After repeatedly questioning Burwell, Cornyn turned to the committee’s leadership and suggested that Burwell was acting in “contempt” of Congress, comments that Hatch endorsed as “accurate.”
“These are not stupid people up here. You’re not stupid either,” Hatch told Burwell as he again questioned her about the Supreme Court case.