May 21, 2014 / 6:37 PM / 4 years ago

Senate panel backs Burwell's nomination for U.S. health secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Finance Committee easily approved the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell as U.S. health secretary on Wednesday, sending her candidacy to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.

In a show of congressional bipartisanship, eight Republican lawmakers joined 13 Democrats to back President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee its implementation of Obamacare, Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Three Republicans opposed the nomination: Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota.

Burwell, a 48-year-old technocrat known for being able to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, is also expected to see a smooth confirmation following two cordial Senate confirmation hearings.

It is unclear when the full Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the nomination. Democrats had hoped to wrap up the matter before Monday’s Memorial Day holiday, but aides recently suggested the confirmation vote could occur in early June.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office had no immediate comment.

At least one Republican, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, has said he will vote against Burwell’s confirmation.

Administration officials and their Democratic allies hope Burwell’s replacement of outgoing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will open a less contentious chapter for Obamacare, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Since last year’s botched rollout of the federal website, the 2010 healthcare law has become a major campaign issue for Republicans who are trying to win control of the Senate in November’s congressional elections.

Democrats say Burwell’s main task will be to avoid further problems with Obamacare’s implementation in hopes of minimizing its negative impact on Democratic candidates.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao

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