(Repeats with no change)
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON May 1 Republicans are relishing the
chance to use confirmation hearings for Sylvia Mathews Burwell,
President Barack Obama's nominee as U.S. health secretary, to
re-energize their election-year attacks on his signature
Republicans, who are seeking to take control of the Senate
in the Nov. 4 congressional elections, view a pair of Senate
hearings for Burwell as their best chance to put a spotlight on
Obamacare since the program's botched rollout in October.
Burwell's first hearing is scheduled for May 8 before the
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She is
expected to testify later before the Senate Finance Committee at
a date yet to be set.
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.
"Ultimately, it may be Republicans' only opportunity,
certainly before the end of the summer and maybe before the
election, to have a senior administration official available to
answer these questions," said Lanhee Chen, who advised
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on domestic policy
during the 2012 campaign.
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
Obamacare is the No. 1 issue for Republicans in the November
elections. While opinion polls show that most Americans dislike
the law, the party needs to keep the intensity of its attacks
high to turn out key electoral blocs including the Republican
faithful, senior citizens and conservative-leaning independents.
FOCUS ON ALL 'DISASTERS'
"The confirmation process is likely to focus on all of the
Obamacare-related disasters," said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman
with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
For the benefit of independent voters, Burwell will be
grilled about tax penalties for individuals and businesses that
fail to comply with the law's coverage mandates, as well as the
canceled insurance plans that Republicans say belie Obama's
pledge that people would be able to keep their health plans.
For senior citizens, a dependably major presence in midterm
elections, there will be questions that showcase Republican
charges that Obamacare represents a danger to Medicare benefits.
Republicans boast that the same message helped them to victory
in a special congressional election in March in Florida, where
Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a district
with a large elderly population.
Republicans also intend to use the hearings to pressure
vulnerable Democrats into breaking ranks with the White House by
voting against the Obama nominee, joining an expected majority
of Republican senators. This week, Louisiana's five Republican
congressmen called on Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu to place
a hold on the Burwell nomination - a largely symbolic gesture
intended to delay a final vote.
Republican officials, Senate aides and lobbyists say the
party's aim is not to prevent Burwell's confirmation, or attack
her directly. She is viewed by both sides as a capable public
servant and is widely expected to be confirmed by a divided
"Cursorily, she looks very good to me. But she's going to
have to answer some really tough questions is all I can say. And
I'll have plenty of questions," said Senator Orrin Hatch of
Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
For weeks, Republicans have looked on with frustration while
Obama and his Democratic allies enjoyed a run of upbeat news on
More than 8 million people have signed up for private health
coverage, a performance that surpassed the most optimistic
forecasts. Instead of the feared sticker shock on premiums, the
cost of insurance in new Obamacare marketplaces has been lower
than expected, as is anticipated federal spending.
Administration officials say Burwell's nomination could also
start a new, less-polarizing chapter in the law's four-year
history, if she is confirmed as the replacement for Health and
Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned in
Analysts say none of this has put Republicans on the
defensive. Forty-six percent of Americans hold an unfavorable
view of Obamacare, versus 38 percent who favor it, according to
polling data from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in
April. In states where Democratic Senate candidates face tough
contests opposition runs as high as 60 percent.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)