Burwell catches a break with ‘friendly’ budget hearing

At the height of one of the toughest periods on ObamaCare in recent memory, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell received a warm reception during her Capitol Hill appearance on Wednesday.

Burwell testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee after a contentious two weeks for the healthcare law.


One day earlier, Burwell angered top Republicans by saying the White House had no backup plan for the looming court challenge that could erase most subsidies under ObamaCare. Earlier in the week, the agency disclosed that it had sent the wrong tax forms to about 800,000

But even with the clock ticking ahead on the high court challenge and the new tax season struggles, more than a dozen House Appropriations committee members made no mention of King v. Burwell or the new taxes.

Instead, the two-hour hearing focused on abortion funding, travel budgets, Ebola and budgets of rural hospitals.

Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) used his time to question Burwell about a recent report that the department had spent millions on first-class and business-class flights.

As Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), began his questioning, he welcomed Burwell to what he joked was the “friendly committee.” He said while reading through the secretary’s 18-page testimony on the budget proposal, he was largely in support.

 “I actually agree with you on most of it,” Simpson said.

The hearing marked the first of the year by the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee and the first to be chaired by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

The panel specifically met to discuss the president's $83.3 billion HHS budget, an increase of nearly $5 billion from last year’s. Burwell last testified about the budget before the Senate Finance Committee in early February, though the panel almost entirely focused on the Supreme Court challenge.

The most pointed question on ObamaCare came from Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannDemocrats may bring DHS bill to House floor GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says public health threat of loneliness compounded by COVID-19; Trump says task force will 'evolve' MORE (R-Tenn.), who asked Burwell one question about the administration’s recent decision to reopen enrollment next month. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) also asked about recouping dollars that were spent on failed healthcare exchange websites, such as his home state’s.

At the close of the hearing, Cole thanked Burwell and joked, "They didnt lay a glove on you."