US President Barack Obama names Sylvia Mathews Burwell (R), his current budget director, to replace Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 11, 2014.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

Burwell on the hot seat

It’s been about a month since the White House announced that Kathleen Sebelius would step down as Secretary of Health and Human Services, to be replaced by Sylvia Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, whom President Obama nominated the day Sebelius announced her departure.
Burwell’s confirmation process begins today on Capitol Hill and Republicans are reportedly “relishing” the opportunity to go after her.
Republican strategists say the more dramatic moments in the hearings, where Burwell will face a litany of tough questions from Republican lawmakers, could yield rich material for television ads and social media campaigns. […]
One Republican aim is to trip up the 48-year-old White House budget director and force embarrassing slip under the glare of the televised proceedings.
“One gaffe and they lose the news cycle,” a Republican Party strategist said.
Ryan Grim recently joked, “[W]hoever said ‘one gaffe and they lose the news cycle’ really should be questioning their life choices.”
And while that’s certainly fair, the fact remains that GOP senators have been planning to turn Burwell’s confirmation process into a political circus for quite a while.
But the plan, such as it is, seems more pathetic than scary.
For one thing, Burwell’s eventual confirmation seems quite likely. The GOP minority cannot filibuster her nomination, and there’s no reason to think obstructionism would succeed anyway. When Burwell was nominated to lead to the OMB last year, she impressed senators on both sides of the aisle and was confirmed 96 to 0. After she was announced as Sebelius’ successor, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went so far as to describe her as “an excellent choice” to lead HHS.
So what is it, exactly, Republicans are “relishing”? By all appearances, GOP senators hope to repeat a bunch of talking points while beating their chests about how much they hate “Obamacare” – all in the hopes that Burwell will commit a “gaffe” that will cost the White House “the news cycle” for a day.
But this is just sad. The Affordable Care Act is working so well, House Republicans have been reduced to talking about the IRS and Benghazi again.
It’s hard not to wonder, then, why they’d bother turning the Burwell hearings into yet another partisan spectacle. Republican predictions about the ACA have been proven wrong; they still don’t have an alternative of their own; and they don’t seem to have any genuine concerns about the nominee’s qualifications or record.
There can be little doubt that GOP senators will try to stay on the offensive today, but given the circumstances, they’ll be going through the motions for no good reason.