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Obama Health Nominee Backed by U.S. Senate Committee

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Barack Obama’s choice for U.S. health secretary, gained the overwhelming backing of a key committee, sending her nomination to the U.S. Senate for a confirmation vote.

The Finance Committee voted 21-3 today to recommend Burwell’s nomination as secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. Three Republican senators -- Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota -- voted against her.

Burwell, 48, is currently the director of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. She would replace Kathleen Sebelius, who announced her resignation April 10 after the turbulent first enrollment period concluded for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

While 8 million Americans signed up for private coverage under the health law, enrollment was plagued by computer failures that have persisted in some states. The board for Nevada’s health exchange voted yesterday to fire its contractor, Xerox Corp., shut down the state’s website for at least a year and join the federal system. Three other states - - Oregon, Maryland and Massachusetts -- have made similar decisions after their enrollment systems failed.

“Ms. Burwell is highly qualified and well respected by Democrats and Republicans in government and in the private sector,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, said before the vote. “My view is she will hit the ground running at the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Burwell will lead a government agency with a budget approaching $1 trillion a year, including the Medicare and Medicaid health programs. Her most visible job, though, will be as Obama’s chief administrator for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. She has said that making sure enrollment is smooth for 2015, which begins Nov. 15, will be a top priority.

The Senate won’t vote on Burwell’s nomination this week.

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