Kathleen Sebelius' replacement to face tough Obamacare questions

President Barack Obama names Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his current budget director, to replace Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington,DC on April 11, 2014. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Before the Senate confirms Sylvia Mathews Burwell to take the helm of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, lawmakers are sure to have tough questions for her.

On Thursday, when she appears before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Burwell will find out whether those questions will focus on the partisan controversies surrounding Obamacare or more substantive policy matters. She's likely to get a taste of both.

Ultimately, the Senate should be able to confirm Burwell to replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- it now only takes a simple 51-vote majority to confirm executive branch nominees, and Democrats have a 55-seat majority. That, however, doesn't mean Republicans will go easy on her when she testifies before the HELP Committee and later before the Senate Finance Committee.

"The confirmation process is likely to focus on all of the Obamacare-related disasters," Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently said.

While the Affordable Care Act has been law for more than four years, it's clear enough that Republicans are relying on Obamacare's continued political potency to gain some traction with voters this year. This week alone, GOP-aligned groups have released ads attacking Obamacare in races in Nebraska, Georgia, Nevada and elsewhere. New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, meanwhile, has embarked on an "Obamacare isn't working" tour around his state.

Some complaints about the law have more merit than others. For instance, insurers told Congress this week that Republicans overstated the number of Obamacare enrollees who've failed to pay their premiums.

On the flip side, the failure of Oregon's Obamacare marketplace -- which cost the federal government more than $300 million -- has piqued the interest of not just lawmakers but also nonpartisan investigators, including reportedly the FBI. Other states such as Massachusetts are also struggling to run their own marketplaces.

While lawmakers Thursday are sure to bring up Obamacare's existing flaws, there are plenty of other questions for Burwell about the law's continued implementation.

For one thing, lawmakers may ask if she's prepared to oversee the ongoing construction of HealthCare.gov. Insurers on Capitol Hill this week reminded Congress that the back end of the website has yet to be finished.

In February, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters it would take "several months" to finish the back end portion of the website, which will automate the transfer of federal subsidies from the government to insurers.

In addition to overseeing the technical and financial portions of the ACA, Burwell this year will have to continue expanding the reach of Obamacare, primarily through Medicaid. Currently, only about half of the states have expanded Medicaid. The expansion -- which makes the government health care program available to anyone under 138 percent of the poverty line -- was a key part of Obamacare, but the Supreme Court ruled that the administration couldn't force states to go along with it.

Lawmakers on Thursday could also question Burwell about any number of Obamacare regulations. Already, The Hill reports, Burwell has met with two senators over an Obamacare regulation requiring chain restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus.

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