Topics: Obamacare

Sylvia Mathews Burwell confirmation hearing should focus on vast powers of HHS secretary position through Obamacare

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Philip Klein,Obamacare,Health Care,Kathleen Sebelius,HHS,Sylvia Mathews Burwell

After President Obama's health care law passed in March 2010, I dubbed Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius the "Empress of Obamacare" given the vast powers granted to her under the new law. Now, after wielding that power through the tumultuous rollout of the health care program, Sebelius is resigning, creating an opening for one of the most powerful positions in America.

As I wrote back in a June 2010 story for the American Spectator, "There are more than 2,500 references to the secretary of HHS in the health care law (in most cases she's simply mentioned as 'the Secretary'). A further breakdown finds that there are more than 700 instances in which the Secretary is instructed that she 'shall' do something, and more than 200 cases in which she 'may' take some form of regulatory action if she chooses. On 139 occasions, the law mentions decisions that the 'Secretary determines.' At times, the frequency of these mentions reaches comic heights. For instance, one section of the law reads: 'Each person to whom the Secretary provided information under subsection (d) shall report to the Secretary in such manner as the Secretary determines appropriate.'"

The new secretary of HHS will have the ability to determine when the open enrollment period for the exchanges can begin or end; what type of insurance every American must have; and what constitutes enough of a "hardship" to exempt individuals from the mandate to purchase coverage, among other powers. As HHS secretary, Sebelius has proven herself willing to push the boundaries of her discretion to delay or modify key parts of the law without seeking congressional authorization.

Obama plans to replace Sebelius with current director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Republicans will no doubt want to turn the focus of her confirmation hearing on Obamacare. But the hearings should, specifically, be used as an opportunity to highlight the vast expansion of power granted to this one official through the health care law.

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Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner