WASHINGTON – Sylvia Mathews Burwell received broad support last week in the Senate where she was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Burwell, who served the past year as White House budget director, replaces Kathleen Sebelius who had become a magnet for partisan criticism after the botched roll out of the federal health insurance exchange’s website under the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate voted 78-17 to confirm Burwell, with 24 Republicans joining Democrats.
Burwell, 48, had served in the Clinton administration and then spent a decade working for charities — most recently as president of the Walmart Foundation. She returned to Washington last year, winning unanimous Senate confirmation as Obama’s budget director.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said Burwell enjoyed a “breadth of bipartisan support” because “she is really that good, she is really that capable, and she is really that qualified.”
Republicans who voted against her confirmation conceded her abilities but said her support of Obamacare made it impossible for them to support her nomination.
“By most accounts Sylvia Burwell is a smart and skilled public servant, but her embrace of Obamacare calls her policy judgment into question,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “When it comes to the task of implementing this ill-conceived and disastrous law, the President may as well have nominated Sisyphus because Ms. Burwell is being asked to do the impossible here. Obamacare has already inflicted tremendous pain on the lives of countless — countless — middle class Americans.”
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted to confirm Burwell. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., home recovering from heart surgery, did not vote.
Senate fills vacancies on commodities panel
The Senate confirmed three nominees to sit on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees the commodity futures, options and swaps industry.
The five-member commission is responsible for overseeing the swaps and futures markets that has been blamed for the 2008 financial crisis. It has been working to implement stronger oversight called for in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Two nominees were confirmed on a voice vote with no opposition: Timothy Massad as chairman and J. Christopher Giancarlo as a commission member.
The third nominee, Sharon Bowen, faced strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats over her role on a panel that refused to compensate victims of Allen Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scheme, many of whom live in Louisiana. Stanford is serving a 110-year prison sentence for the crime.
Sen. Mary Landreiu, D-La., spoke against Bowen, a New York attorney, saying that under her leadership the Securities Investor Protection Corporation refused to allow more than 1,800 Louisiana families to apply for restitution for a portion of the more than $500 million stolen from them.
“These families deserve better, and I will continue to stand by them in their fight for justice,” she said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., lobbed a partisan complaint against Democrats for considering Bowen, who he said had essentially “ripped off” for the second time the victims of Stanford’s Ponzi scheme.
“Today she was rewarded for that with a promotion from President Obama and the Harry Reid Senate majority. That’s really outrageous,” Vitter said.
The SIPC board has argued that it could not cover the losses, because Stanford sold certificates of deposit issued by foreign banks outside its purview.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., spoke in favor of Bowen. She noted that the Senate had unanimously confirmed her as director of SIPC and that during her tenure on the board it had returned $24.5 billion to over 9,000 investors.
“She has the expertise and experience to be an excellent commissioner,” Stabenow said.
The Senate voted 48-46 to confirm Bowen. Pryor supported her. Boozman did not vote.