The Hill

04.11.14

Could Shutdown Skeletons Haunt Sylvia Burwell?

Obama’s nominee to succeed Kathleen Sebelius played a key role in closing Washington’s monuments—a still-bitter issue for Republicans and their base.

The nomination of Sylvia Burwell to succeed Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services could lead to the reopening of a fiercely divisive issue that dominated the news in the fall of 2013. Not healthcare.gov, but the government shutdown.

As director of the Office of Management and Budget, Burwell was the individual who sent out the memo on the eve of the October 1 deadline for Congress to fund the government, saying officials should “now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.” At the time, the shutdown sparked huge controversy among conservatives, who were particularly outraged that monuments on the Washington Mall, including the World War II Memorial were closed during the shutdown. While the GOP suffered grievously in national polls during the shutdown, brought upon by a refusal by Republicans to pass any budget that funded the Affordable Care Act, some on the right used it as opportunity to flaunt their conservative bona fides.

Burwell’s nomination could lead to a return to this debate and reopening of arguments about an event once thought long consigned to the past. It adds another complication to confirmation hearings in which Republicans, only six months before midterm elections, will be looking to score political points criticizing the Affordable Care Act. While some of the conservative base may be still deeply outraged about the closing of the World War II Memorial to veterans during the shutdown, every mention of the shutdown takes the GOP away from its core message of fighting Obamacare and on to an issue that caused Republicans huge political damage. The question is whether any Republican senators will take the bait.