U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said to laughter Tuesday that he thinks President Barack Obama's nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services is "probably going to be confirmed and probably going to have the worst experience of her adult life."
McConnell's remarks came in response to an audience question during a luncheon held by the Central Kentucky Association of Health Underwriters.
"I think she's a pretty capable person," McConnell said of nominee Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who is director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. "The issue here to me is not the personnel. It's the bill."
Obama tapped Burwell last week to be the new HHS secretary after announcing the resignation of embattled Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has struggled to implement a federal health insurance overhaul pushed by Obama.
"I never called for Sebelius' resignation because I don't think anybody could figure out how to administer this law," McConnell said. "It's a tough assignment."
The senator devoted the majority of his remarks to criticizing "Obamacare," saying again he would like to see the law repealed "root and branch."
In an interview with the Herald-Leader after the event, McConnell was asked what he would say, if the law was repealed, to terminally ill Kentuckians who lacked insurance until signing up for the program.
"There are a lot of people like that, of course, who are losing what they had before, who were insured through the high-risk pool, who are losing what they had before," McConnell said. "The way that should've been handled was state-based high-risk pools. Not at the federal level. Because for every one of those, you've got somebody who was insured and through a state-based high-risk pool, who lost their situation because they were wiped out Dec. 31 of 2013. So I'm worried about those people."
The senator also on Tuesday continued his plea to flip the U.S. Senate to Republican hands, saying it would put "us in the agenda-setting business."
McConnell said Americans worried about "Obamacare" should work to elect a Republican Senate and "link it up with the House," which he said would allow Republicans an opportunity to control spending and force the president to capitulate.
The senator said that with a majority, Republicans could introduce "riders" that say "no money shall be spent to do this or that." Only then, McConnell said, would Obama be forced to revisit his proclamation that the health care law is "here to stay."
"But right now because of the Senate, he gets nothing that makes him uncomfortable. Nothing at all," McConnell said. "Never put in a stressful position. But restrictions on spending is a very effective way to push back against the bureaucracy."