(Bloomberg) — These days, serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is an impossible job. President Barack Obama has selected the perfect woman for the task.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has been picked as the successor to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose resignation Obama will announce today. Republicans will use her confirmation hearings as a vehicle to attack Obamacare, but she will handle it almost perfectly and win confirmation with a large number of Republican votes.
“Sylvia is one of the four or five ablest people I ever met,” said Roger Altman, a deputy Treasury secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration who is the chairman and founder of Evercore Partners Inc., an investment bank. “Between her intellect, her values and her wonderful calm, she is the best.”
Even some Republicans who strongly disagree with her on the issues share some of that assessment of her abilities.
One of the most talented public officials of the past quarter-century, she is a first-class intellect, a policy wonk and has expertise in a wide range of areas. She graduated from Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
There are a lot of Rhodes Scholars and Harvard graduates are thick on the ground. Few possess the calm charm and easy manner of the unflappable Burwell.
In her 20s, she became a top aide to Robert Rubin in the Clinton White House, and then at Treasury. A common saying of top Clinton officials in the 1990s was: “Get me a Sylvia.” Rubin and his successor as Treasury secretary, Larry Summers, had many talented subordinates, though none has earned more respect than Burwell.