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HHS pick Sylvia Mathews Burwell questioned on health law

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 7:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama's nominee for health secretary drew support from Republican senators on Thursday even as they challenged the health law she would be charged with carrying out.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell defended the Affordable Care Act, asserting that it has improved the economy, held down the growth of health costs, reduced premiums and expanded coverage.

The law “is making a positive difference in the lives of our families and our communities,” Burwell, who now serves as Obama's budget director, said in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the first of two Senate committees that will hold hearings on her nomination to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

The top committee Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, warned her that Republicans hope to retake the Senate in November and scale back the law in numerous ways.

“Republicans would like to repair the damage Obamacare has done,” Alexander said.

But at the same time, Alexander cited Burwell's “reputation for competence,” and she was effusively introduced at the hearing by another Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., declared he plans to vote in favor of her.

The exchanges point to a smooth confirmation for Burwell, 48, even as her nomination hearings allow Republicans to focus renewed election-year attention on the unpopular health law.

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