What Do We Know About Obama’s HHS Nominee, Sylvia Mathews Burwell

What Do We Know About Obama’s HHS Nominee, Sylvia Mathews Burwell April 12, 2014

Pro-lifers and conservatives are cheering the news that Kathleen Sebelius has resigned her post as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Sebelius, whose reputation was sullied following the massive network problems which crippled the rollout of the Obamacare website, resigned April 11 after five years at HHS.

But wait:  Aren’t the celebrations perhaps a little premature?  What do we really know about President Obama’s nominee to replace Sebelius in the post, Sylvia Mathews Burwell?

She comes from a left-leaning organization.  Before her current position as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Ms. Burwell was Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  During her ten-year stint there, she focused on poverty through agricultural development, financial services for the poor, and global libraries.  Not to be overlooked, though, is the Gates Foundation’s support for easily accessed contraception and abortion.  Although Melinda Gates has stated publicly that her foundation will not provide support for abortion, the Foundation’s third international family planning conference, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, offered six roundtable discussions promoting abortion.

As head of the Wal-Mart Foundation (which is separate from the Walton Family Foundation, established by the company’s founding family) in 2011-13, she supported four main goals:  domestic hunger, food sustainability, women’s economic development abroad, and assisting low-income Americans in the job market.  It’s that third goal, women’s development, that has the U.S. once again poking its head into “reproductive rights.”

She belongs to a left-leaning church.  While at the Gates Foundation, she and her husband attended St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where they were married in 2007.  Whereas Kathleen Sebelius opposed the teachings of her Catholic faith when she supported abortion, Burwell will be able to defend abortion rights with the full support of her faith community.  According to the Pew Forum:

While the Episcopal Church recognizes a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, the church condones abortion only in cases of rape or incest, cases in which a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, or cases involving fetal abnormalities. The church forbids “abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or any reason of mere convenience.”

She’s a Democrat who worked closely with Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.  She served on Clinton’s 1992 campaign, then led his economic transition team.  She served Rubin at the National Economic Council as staff director, then chief of staff.

She’s not afraid to take decisive action.  But critics have criticized her policy implementation when the Congress failed to approve a budget in 2013.  It was Burwell who initiated the process that closed national parks, visitors’ centers and even the “panda-cam” at the National Zoo.  In an email to executive departments and agencies, she wrote:  “Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”

She supported a stop-gap budget.  In a statement, she said, “We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations.”

She is a liberal who favors large-scale spending for social programs, and opposes Republicans’ cost-cutting measures.  On April 1, 2014, just ten days before her nomination to the HHS post, she issued a scathing criticism of the Paul Ryan budget proposal.

She’s a mom.  She married attorney Steven Burwell in 2007, and the couple have two children.  She’s often seen with her children in Washington, D.C. parks.

Burwell’s nomination has not been well received by all in Congress.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said of her nomination,

“I am concerned that director Burwell may have been chosen because the president believed her to be another political loyalist who would toe the party line.  Ms. Burwell has a comparatively thin resume for the demands now placed on this position – she has never run anything on the scale of HHS – and, during her short stint as budget director, she did more to obscure the nation’s poor financial state than to illuminate it.”


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