POLITICS: PennAve

Five reasons why Sylvia Mathews Burwell's nomination to HHS sailed through the Senate

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Sylvia Mathews Burwell is a Democrat who has held senior posts in the Obama and Clinton administrations, served as an aide to 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and is a strident supporter of Obamacare. So why did so many Senate Republicans -- 24 -- support her nomination to be the nation's new health secretary, helping Burwell easily win confirmation Thursday in the upper chamber by a vote of 78-17? Here are five reasons why:

1. Open door policy

Burwell vowed during her confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Finance Committee that if confirmed she would do her best to be responsive to Congress and keep them in the loop. Such openness is something Republicans long have sought with the Health and Human Services Department, particularly after repeatedly accusing former Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of not being forthcoming with them after the last year's troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, healthcare.gov.

2. She vowed to recover lost money

Burwell says she will use "the full extent of the law" to recover federal funds spent on the state-run Obamacare exchanges that have failed. This also is something Republicans have been pushing for after complaining that failed online health insurance marketplaces in several states have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

3. Past praise

The Senate last year confirmed Burwell's nomination to her current post as director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget by vote of 96-0, so to oppose her nomination this time without a strong reason would raise eyebrows and smack of petty partisanship. And since her 14 months on the job at OMB went smoothly and scandal-free, Republicans who supported her previously had little reason to change their minds.

4. She's a number cruncher

With the HHS's annual budget topping $940 billion -- larger than most state budgets -- Republicans were adamant that the agency's new secretary have significant experience dealing with budgets and money. And Burwell's credentials fit the bill. Aside from leading the OMB, she previously headed Walmart's philanthropic foundation and held senior posts with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including chief operating officer. And during the Clinton administration she served as OMB deputy director, National Economic Council staff director, chief of staff to the Treasury secretary and deputy chief of staff to Clinton.

5. She's not Sebelius

Sebelius had become one of the Republican Party's favorite targets, so almost anyone coming after her would be viewed as an improvement. And Burwell's friendly, easygoing and confident demeanor likely helped disarm potential GOP opposition.

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