(Bloomberg) – Kathleen Sebelius is leaving her post as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) months ahead of the November elections.
Democrats are hoping her departure will show the Obama administration is responding to criticism of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange program rollout and reduce the amount of PPACA-related hostility coming at Democrats today.
Democrats are also hoping the timing of her exit will help reduce Republicans’ ability to use attacks on PPACA in the fall elections, by having the Senate confirmation hearings for Sebelius’s likely replacement – Sylvia Mathews Burwell – take place in the late spring or early summer.
Obama administration officials have noted that Burwell, 48, was confirmed to her current post, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, just one year ago, by a 96-0 Senate vote.
“It will help the confirmation process that Sylvia just recently went through it,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. ‘‘I still expect it to be nothing short of brutal.’’
Republican leaders seized on Sebelius’s departure to blast PPACA.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that he hopes Burwell’s confirmation hearings will be ‘‘the start of a candid conversation about Obamacare’s shortcomings.”
Thirty-six Senate seats will be up for grabs in November: 21 occupied by Democrats and 15 by Republicans. Most of the races rated as competitive by non-partisan analysts are in states currently in the hands of Democrats.