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Republicans fuming as Sebelius skips hearing on HHS budget

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FILE: Outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies.AP

Republicans are fuming after outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declined to testify on her own department’s 2015 budget request before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday. 

According to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the secretary skipped the hearing not due to a scheduling problem, but because "she doesn't want to" testify. 

"Her absence speaks volumes about transparency," Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said, adding he was "astonished, absolutely blown away that she is not here today."

Sebelius’ absence was unusual as heads of departments typically speak at such hearings to defend their agency’s budget requests. In her place, leaders from each department of HHS testified on their specific budget allocations.

Several Republicans used their time during the hearing to blast Sebelius for not attending. 

The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said at the hearing he never formally asked Sebelius personally to appear, and in his view it makes sense she would not testify as she will not be here for the next fiscal year. However, he noted that the nominee to replace her, OMB director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, has not yet been confirmed, leaving the hearing in "limbo." 

But the subcommittee's ranking member, Sen. Jerry Moran, said he was disappointed Sebelius did not appear, saying it is the first time he or his colleagues can remember a department head not showing up to one of these hearings.

Moran, R-Kan., said lawmakers worked with Sebelius to try and accommodate her schedule but she still said she wouldn’t appear. He said in his view, Sebelius "refused" to testify. 

"I want to make clear from my perspective that the committee is deserving of an appearance from the secretary," he said.

Moran said he believes the subcommittee will be unable to fully understand the overall budget and strategy of the department as a whole without testimony from the secretary. 

Johanns, a former secretary of Agriculture under the George W. Bush administration, said as a former Cabinet secretary there would have "never been a time" he didn't show up at such a hearing. He said the hearing was not only about the next fiscal year, but examining the budget from the previous year.

Fox News' Kara Rowland contributed to this report.