Burwell Takes Obamacare Hot Seat Before Senate Finance Panel

Senate Republicans get their last chance to grill President Barack Obama’s nominee for U.S. health secretary on Wednesday, but seem likely to take a harder line on the alleged failings of Obamacare than the job qualifications of Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The widely respected White House budget director, who got a cordial reception from both Republicans and Democrats at her first hearing last week, will appear before the Senate Finance Committee for a final hearing at which she is again likely to find support on both sides of the aisle.

Finance Committee members could take a harder line with Burwell, since they are responsible for deciding whether to move her nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote, aides said. Democrats who control the Senate still hope to have her confirmation wrapped up before the May 26 Memorial Day holiday.

“We’re not very happy with healthcare. So who knows? It could be a tough line,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel’s top Republican.

But Hatch questioned the notion that committee Republicans would use the hearing as a platform for election-year attacks on Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law. “Some might think it so. But I’m not sure that I’m going to do that,” he said.

Republicans insist the unpopular law known as Obamacare remains front and center in their campaign to take control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections. But they have been unexpectedly reticent in their criticism during what some analysts say could be their last chance before the ballot to grill a top administration official about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).