WASHINGTON –Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made her third appearance in front of Congress in less than three weeks Tuesday to defend her department’s $76.4 billion budget request for next year.

Members of the Republican-dominated House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies fired questions at Sebelius on specifics in the request,  a $300 million increase from the 2012 funding level for HHS.

High on the priority list is continued investment for “administration priorities,” most prominently the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law that Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. The constitutionality of the law has been challenged by a number of states, individuals and organizations.

Republican committee members were vocal in their disapproval of the plan.

Appearing briefly before the group, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., did not hold back. “Regardless of whether you support the Affordable Care Act or not, the reality is that Obamacare is a budget buster,” Rogers said.

(Rachel Morello/Medill)

“Only 89 percent of your budget is mandatory spending,” Rogers said, addressing the secretary. “It’s critical we stop living in a fantasy where the money never runs out.”

Although she admitted to sharing concerns about the overall deficit, Sebelius retaliated quickly.

“In the two years since the Affordable Care Act has been passed, we have some good news,” specifically in Medicare, Sebelius said. The secretary cited statistics showing the Medicare spending rate down from 8 percent to just over 6 percent since the law was passed two years ago.

“That program is stronger than ever,” Sebelius said.

Those across the aisle also spoke up, praising the administration’s spending decisions. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, congratulated Sebelius early on for the administration’s work to implement the Affordable Care Act in what she called a difficult time.

“Some on the majority side don’t consider the current [spending] caps stringent enough,” DeLauro said, pointing out “huge though mostly unspecified cuts” being touted by some Republican presidential nominees.

DeLauro, one of many outspoken actors in the contraception debate, specifically applauded provisions of the health care law targeting programs for  women.

“It is heartening to work with an administration that understands and respects women’s health needs,” DeLauro said.

Sebelius noted that such programs, as well as others that are not entitlements would be threatened if the budget request is cut.

“It’s safe to say that a number of the programs would either vanish or be seriously threatened,” she said. “We want to be sure that everyone has a fair shot to reach their true potential.”