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Senate OK’s Burwell as next health secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday confirmed the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be secretary of health and human services by a vote of 78-17, which will make her responsible for delivering health insurance to more than one-third of all Americans.

Burwell, 48, has been director of the White House Office of Management and Budget since April of last year.

White House officials said President Obama selected her because he wanted a proven manager to carry out the health care law, which got off to a rocky start under the current health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

Burwell sailed through confirmation hearings before two Senate committees, where she mollified lawmakers with promises to be candid and cooperative in working with Congress.

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She won endorsements from several conservative Republicans including Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, despite their disagreement with her on the merits of the health care law.

Coburn described Burwell as “the real deal,” saying: “She’s competent. So often, we have people placed in Washington who aren’t competent for the task at hand.”

McCain said Burwell was an “excellent choice” for what he described as a thankless job — like being “captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.”

The most immediate task for Burwell is to defend the health care law. As secretary, she also will be responsible for Medicare and Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.