Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Is Sylvia Mathews Burwell? the Likely New Face of Obamacare

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Is Sylvia Mathews Burwell? the Likely New Face of Obamacare

Article excerpt

If President Obama gets his wish, Sylvia Mathews Burwell will be his new Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary - and the new face of Obamacare.

Ms. Burwell, nominated Friday by Mr. Obama to replace the embattled Kathleen Sebelius at HHS, is no stranger to that turbulent place where policy meets politics. As Obama's budget director for almost a year, Burwell had to manage the first partial federal government shutdown in 17 years last October. And she helped lead negotiations last summer with Senate Republicans on a possible "grand bargain" to raise taxes and reform entitlements.

Those talks failed, but Republicans praised her low-key manner and genial demeanor, a style that will serve her well if she is confirmed, as expected, to run HHS. The turbulent first open enrollment period for Healthcare.gov has finished, and now Secretary Sebelius is ready to hand off the heavy lifting of continuing Obamacare implementation, running a massive government department with numerous agencies, and facing off against Republicans on Capitoll Hill.

In his announcement in the White House Rose Garden Friday, Obama offered praise for Sebelius, and spoke highly of Burwell's leadership ability.

Burwell is "a proven manager who's demonstrated her ability to field great teams, forge strong relationships, and deliver excellent results at the highest levels, and she's done it both in the public and private sector," Obama said.

The president also noted her small-town roots - she grew up in Hinton, W.V. - and praised her "common sense."

"She brings the values of caring about your neighbor and ordinary folks to some of the biggest and most complex challenges of her time," Obama said.

The daughter of a doctor and small-town mayor, and the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, Burwell has worked in and out of government much of her adult life. She served in a succession of posts during the Clinton administration: staff director for the National Economic Council, chief of staff to the Treasury secretary, deputy chief of staff for policy to President Clinton, and finally, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which she currently runs.

In the private sector, she worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and more recently led the Walmart Foundation. Before joining the Clinton administration, she worked for McKinsey & Company consultancy.

Burwell also has political experience. Her mother was mayor of Hinton, and while in college, Burwell interned for Rep. Nick Rahall (D) of West Virginia. Later, she worked for the Dukakis and Clinton presidential campaigns.

Burwell received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and got another degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.

In person, Burwell comes across as down-to-earth. As the guest at a breakfast last month hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, she expressed concern for the welfare of federal workers, who have dealt with furloughs and frozen pay in recent years. …

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