Jun 05 2014
“Ms. Burwell does not have the background one associates with a position of this magnitude. Nor does she possess the specific experience and skills critically needed today. The OMB office she now holds has 500 employees. HHS has 72,000… [Additionally,] her time as Director of the Office of Management and Budget was controversial. The budget plan she submitted to Congress plainly violated the spending caps we passed into law. Yet… to my dismay she went to enormous lengths during her testimony to try to conceal this fact…
This position demands that we find one of the best and most respected health care experts in the world. Ms. Burwell is, sadly, not that person. Obamacare was passed into law on a series of egregious falsehoods, and the American people are now paying the steepest of prices.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered the following prepared remarks on the Senate floor yesterday regarding the nomination of Sylvia Burwell to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with implementing Obamacare:
“Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the nomination of Sylvia Burwell to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. I have met with her and worked with her in her capacity as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. I take no pleasure in opposing her nomination, but she lacks the background necessary to assume responsibility for this important agency.
The Secretary of HHS oversees several of the largest programs in the federal government.
Crucially, the Secretary is also the person tasked with implementing the President’s health care law.
It is essential that anyone who fills this position possess great skill, relevant experience, proven managerial experience, and who will act with independence and in the best interest of the American public. One who, at this critical time, puts country over politics. They must not be a political loyalist, but someone of stature, integrity, and sound judgment who is willing to tell the President ‘no’ if asked to circumvent the law, provide false information, or otherwise act against the public interest. From the President’s own perspective, he desperately needs someone who is able to evaluate major programs like Obamacare with wisdom, and tell him and the people the truth.
Ms. Burwell does not have the background one associates with a position of this magnitude. Nor does she possess the specific experience and skills critically needed today. The OMB office she now holds has 500 employees. HHS has 72,000. Aside from her short tenure at OMB, she has never run a health care department, an agency, a major business, a city, or a state. There are many very capable people in this country with such experience.
It appears her most significant health care role prior to this was serving as a board member for the local university medical center. In fact, just two months ago in a Budget Committee hearing, Ms. Burwell declined to answer a basic health care question until seeking Secretary Sebelius’ “expertise,” and indeed that answer never came.
Her time as Director of the Office of Management and Budget was controversial. The budget plan she submitted to Congress plainly violated the spending caps we passed into law. Yet she produced a budget plan that would increase spending by $791 billion above the Ryan-Murray spending limits, including a $56 billion increase above those limits next year. To my dismay she went to enormous lengths during her testimony to try to conceal this fact.
On the day the President’s budget was submitted, the Associated Press reported that the plan that Ms. Burwell authored “lays waste to the spending caps that the White House and Congress agreed to late last year.”
Here are some partial excerpts taken from the much lengthier exchange when I asked Director Burwell about the spending violation:
SESSIONS: So you're proposing that we alter Ryan-Murray so you can spend $56 billion more next year alone. Yes or no; is that correct?
BURWELL: We propose a paid-for [initiative]…
SESSIONS: Can't you answer that question simply? Yes or no? Do you propose to spend $56 billion more than Ryan-Murray allows?
BURWELL: Senator, we do propose a change in the law that would be fully paid for that would invest in the things that we believe are necessary for the economic health of the nation.
SESSIONS: Do you want to spend more than the President agreed to when he signed Ryan-Murray 10 weeks ago?
BURWELL: Senator, we signed Ryan-Murray...
SESSIONS: Now I'm just asking, yes or no; are you [spending] more or less?
BURWELL: Senator, I think there are some questions that are not simply yes or no questions.
SESSIONS: This one is a yes or no question. You're refusing to answer it…
So rather than acting as an independent steward of taxpayer dollars and telling the plain truth to a simple question, she acted as an extension of the President’s campaign arm—advancing their spin without acknowledging honestly the clear and plain facts to the American public.
The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is more than a political position. The Director serves the President, yes, but is at bottom an important public servant. And the person who holds it must act as a disciplined manager of taxpayer dollars with clarity and openness. The Director is managing the world’s largest budget.
However, Ms. Burwell submitted a financial plan, a budget, that would have increased spending more than $700 billion above current, agreed-upon, in-law budget levels, while amazingly suggesting her plan reduced spending.
It was a tax-and-spend budget that would have added $8 trillion to our debt, while doing little to rescue our nation’s entitlement programs from impending insolvency. It completely busted the budget law President Obama signed.
It was a grossly irresponsible plan. According to Ms. Burwell’s own budget submission, the plan would have caused interest payments on the debt to nearly quadruple, from $221 billion last year to more than $800 billion 10 years from now.
There was no attempt to balance the budget even over 10 years—indeed, it flatly rejected the idea of a balanced budget.
Additionally, despite her public commitment during her confirmation that she would deliver the budget in accordance with the legal deadlines, the President’s FY 2015 budget was delivered to Congress more than a month late.
And, importantly, Ms. Burwell failed to comply with federal law requiring her to submit Medicare improvement legislation after the Trustees issued their funding warning. The law states that, within two weeks of the budget submission, legislation must be sent to Congress to comply with this so-called Medicare trigger. It requires a plan to fix the program’s move to insolvency.
During her confirmation as OMB director, she made a commitment to respond to the Medicare trigger.
Specifically she said she would “do everything in her power” to comply with the federal law, bringing an end to the Administration’s years-long defiance.
As the President’s Budget Director, under 31 USC §1105, Sylvia Burwell was the person responsible for complying with federal budget law and submitting Medicare legislation to Congress.
Having willfully violated this requirement, it is ironic that, if confirmed as HHS Secretary, Ms. Burwell will serve on the Board of Trustees of the Medicare Trust Funds, responsible for overseeing the program’s finances—and issuing to OMB the same funding warnings that the Obama Administration received and ignored while she served as budget director.
Ms. Burwell has also violated law and denied Congress needed transparency with respect to the President’s troubled health care law.
- The omnibus appropriations bill signed into law in January required HHS to include in its FY 2015 budget a detailed accounting of spending to implement health law. But neither the budget Ms. Burwell delivered, nor the agency justification that later joined it, satisfied the requirements set in law. As OMB Director, she had the duty and the power to meet this requirement.
- As OMB Director, the budget submitted to Congress by Ms. Burwell reclassified the budgetary treatment of the Obamacare Risk Corridor program without statutory authority to do so. Under this approach, HHS will escape congressional accountability for its use of these funds. This is a clear violation of the congressional power to appropriate money.
Regrettably, it seems Ms. Burwell followed a consistent pattern. Rather than using OMB as the central agency to reform the government, stop wasteful spending, and tame the debt, it promoted tax-and-spend policies.
Her tenure at OMB evidenced no drive to even tackle the magnitude of our fiscal challenges. She proposed to bust the spending caps that Congress and the President agreed to while trying to suggest otherwise.
She ignored the Medicare trigger. She tried to put positive spin on a dangerous financial plan—instead of trying to actually solve the serious financial challenges facing our country.
With Obamacare in chaos and disarray, what we need desperately in this position is someone who will be independent, forthright, and honest. Someone who will resist political pressure from the White House.
This position demands that we find one of the best and most respected health care experts in the world. Ms. Burwell is, sadly, not that person. Obamacare was passed into law on a series of egregious falsehoods, and the American people are now paying the steepest of prices.
One of the falsehoods was that it would not add to the debt—but we know now it will add more than $6 trillion to our long-term debt. The Secretary of HHS must tell the American people the truth about the law’s finances. If they do not—if they conceal that truth—the finances of the entire nation are put in grave danger.
I believe Ms. Burwell is a dedicated and well-meaning person. But I cannot support her bid to control the health care of future of millions of hardworking Americans by placing her in charge of this massive agency desperately in need of reform. I will vote ‘nay’ on her nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. I thank the chair, and yield the floor.”
[NOTE: To view a video of Sessions’ remarks, please click here.]