President Obama’s pick to replace Kathleen Sebelius atop the Department of Health and Human Services has developed a knack for dodging questions about government activities.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who is President Obama’s nominee to be the next HHS Secretary, has ducked questions from Congress and the media multiple times over her year heading the budget agency.
Republicans are already planning to make Burwell’s stonewalling a major issue in the confirmation process she will soon face in the U.S. Senate, especially given the political stakes surrounding Obamacare–and the administration’s non-transparency with regard to the law’s implementation, including enrollment numbers.
A GOP Senate aide told Breitbart News:
Given the Obamacare, IRS, Fast and Furious, and Benghazi scandals–just to mention the most high profile ones–I thought the President might have finally learned a lesson and gone with someone without a record of carrying water for his administration’s mistakes and unpopular positions, someone who’s always been forthright to the American people in everything, even when the administration doesn’t want to hear it. I guess old habits die hard, even for leaders of the free world.
Just this past month, on March 5th, when testifying about Obama’s budget before the Senate Budget Committee, Burwell declined for several minutes to answer “yes” or “no” to a straightforward question from ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Sessions pressed her on whether Obama was proposing to spend more money than the just-passed budget deal from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chairs of the Senate and House Budget Committees, respectively.
“The question is do you spend more than was agreed to in the spending limits of the Ryan-Murray bill?” Sessions asked.
“We propose an initiative that would be paid for to do that,” Burwell responded a second time.
“And you would spend $56 billion more?” Sessions followed up a third time.
“Only if paid for,” Burwell dodged again.
“But do you not agree that the Ryan-Murray law didn’t say ‘paid for'; it simply limited the amount of spending, and you’re spending over the amount that that bill allows to be spent?” Sessions asked Obama’s budget director for a fourth time.
“Um, Senator, when the caps were put in place–I had the opportunity to work with the caps in the first round when I was in OMB [during Bill Clinton’s administration]–much of why the caps were put in place was about deficit reduction,” Burwell responded.
Sessions wasn’t satisfied, so he cut back across her: “You’re theorizing about the purpose of it. The law limited spending, did it not, and you are spending over what the law requires?”
“Senator, only if the Congress would choose to pass a law that would alter that,” Burwell replied, still not giving an affirmative or negative response. “Our budget comes in at the levels.”
“So you are proposing that we alter Ryan-Murray so that you can spend $56 billion more next year alone?” Sessions jumped back in.
“What we are proposing…” Burwell started.
But Sessions demanded, “Yes or no, is that correct? Can’t you answer that question simply? Yes or no? Do you propose to spend $56 billion more than Ryan-Murray allows, and you’re proposing that we change Ryan-Murray to allow you to do so? Yes or no?”
“Senator, we do propose a change in the law that would be fully paid for that would invest in the things that we believe would be necessary for the economic health of the nation,” Burwell responded, without answering.
“So you’re spending $56 billion more, and you’re going to raise taxes to pay for it, and you think that’s acceptable? And I just want you to tell the American people: Do you want to spend more than the President agreed to when he signed Ryan-Murray ten weeks ago?” He continued, “Can’t you just simply answer the question? Yes or no? Do you intend to spend more than Ryan-Murray, and will that not require an amending of the law to allow you to do so?”
“It will require an amending of the law,” Burwell partially answered, still not saying yes or no on the matter of whether Obama wants to spend more than Ryan-Murray.
“And it will spend $56 billion more?” Sessions followed up yet another time.
“Not against the…” Burwell began, attempting another dodge, but Sessions interrupted, still looking for a yes or no answer.
He said, “I’m not talking about paid for. I’m not talking about budgets. I’m just saying are you spending more than the law allows currently?”
At that point, Burwell been arguing with Sessions.
“Senator, it, I believe, makes a very big difference whether…” she said.
“Why can’t you just say yes or no to that?” Sessions jumped back in.
“Senator, because I think that some questions aren’t just simple yes or no questions,” Burwell replied.
“Well, you had your explanation; now, I’m just asking yes or no? Are you paying more or less?” Sessions followed up.
“Senator, I think there are some questions that are not simple yes or no questions,” she dodged with that line of attack again.
Sessions, at that point, more than three minutes into the exchange, put an end to it. “It’s a yes or no question,” he said. “You’re refusing to answer it, so I will answer it. The answer is that you’re asking us to raise the spending limits by changing the Ryan-Murray law so you can spend even more than you agreed to spend ten weeks ago. And this is the way a nation goes broke.”
That example is hardly the only one where Burwell has engaged in dodging questions. During an interview on Bloomberg TV’s Political Capital with Al Hunt on October 18th last year, Hunt asked her if she could guarantee that Obamacare would be fixed by December 15th. “Can you guarantee the public that by December 15th, say, which is a little over two weeks before they can really join, that these projects will be largely rectified?” he asked.
I think that the administration is working deeply on the problems that exist, and I think that it’s also important to recognize that there are other places and ways–in terms of whether those are the phone numbers, the navigators, and other tools and choices that people have. … I think also, from an OMB perspective, it’s important to also recognize that in addition to the issue of health care for the uninsured, the issue of people who have children up to 26 being covered, the issue of pre-existing conditions–all of those are being worked on in a very successful way in terms of the substance and reducing costs.
Hunt, unsatisfied, asked her again, “Cautiously optimistic you’ll have it rectified by December 15th?”
“I am optimistic that we will continue to make progress on the issue,” Burwell said.
In addition to those two examples of stonewalling straightforward questions, Burwell stumbled through her confirmation hearings. An October 4th profile of her in the Washington Examiner noted two such times she filibustered at her April 2013 OMB director confirmation hearing: whether the administration would submit a budget to Congress that balances in ten years and whether the administration would begin complying with congressional oversight deadlines with regards to reports on budgets and spending that OMB is required to regularly provide.
Sens. Sessions, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and others tangled with Burwell during that hearing in which she continually would not answer questions on those matters.