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Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius — Obamacare overseer — to resign

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, April 10, 2014, 9:54 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning as the White House seeks to move past the election-year political damage inflicted by the rocky rollout of President Obama's signature health care law.

Sebelius' resignation happens just over a week after sign-ups closed for the first year of insurance coverage under Obamacare. The opening weeks of the enrollment period were marred by widespread website woes, though the administration rebounded strongly by enrolling 7.1 million people by the March 31 deadline, exceeding initial expectations. Enrollment has since risen to 7.5 million as people were given extra time to complete applications.

Even with the late surge in sign-ups, the law remains unpopular, and Republicans have made it a centerpiece of their efforts to retake the Senate in the fall.

Sebelius' resignation could set the stage for a contentious confirmation hearing to replace her. In a sign that the White House is seeking to avoid a nomination fight, the president tapped Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius.

A White House official requested anonymity to confirm Sebelius' resignation and Burwell's nomination ahead of the formal announcement. Obama has not nominated anyone to replace Burwell as budget director.

Obama remained publicly supportive of Sebelius throughout the rollout, deflecting Republican calls for her resignation. But she was conspicuously not standing by his side last week when he heralded the sign-up surge during an event in the White House Rose Garden.

The official said Sebelius, 65, approached Obama last month about stepping down, telling him that the sign-up deadline was a good opportunity for a transition and suggesting he would be better served by someone who was less of a political target.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Sebelius' home state of Kansas, called the resignation “a prudent decision.”

A popular former governor of Kansas, Sebelius has been one of Obama's longest-serving Cabinet officials and his only HHS secretary. She was instrumental in shepherding the health care law through Congress in 2010 and implementing its initial components, including a popular provision that allows young people to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.

But Sebelius' relationship with the White House frayed during the fall rollout of the insurance exchanges, which are at the center of the sweeping overhaul. The president and his top advisers appeared caught off guard by the extent of the website woes, with warnings from those working on the technology never making it to the West Wing.

Sebelius took personal responsibility for the chaotic introduction of the website and asked the HHS inspector general to conduct an investigation. That report is not expected for months.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised Sebelius as a “forceful, effective and essential” secretary.

“Secretary Sebelius was a leader in the long effort to make history for our country with passage of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

In nominating the 48-year-old Burwell, Obama is tapping a Washington veteran with a low-profile and the respect of some Republicans on Capitol Hill. Though she only joined the Obama administration last year, Burwell held several White House and Treasury posts during President Bill Clinton's administration.

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