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Obama's Recess Appointment of Medicare Boss Draws Republican Fire

5 years ago
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President Obama took advantage of a Senate recess Wednesday to appoint Dr. Donald Berwick as head of the nation's Medicare and Medicaid programs, but the president's decision to bypass the confirmation process infuriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell said Obama intended to "arrogantly circumvent the American people" by sneaking through Berwick while the Senate is on a July 4 break. Obama also made two other recess appointments -- meaning the three nominees can serve in the administration through 2011 without Senate confirmation.

Berwick, a patient care specialist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard's School of Public Health, was nominated as director of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services in April. But no confirmation hearings have been held or even scheduled in the Senate.
Donald Berwick, Medicare & Medicaid director nominee
"Many Republicans have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a blog posting.

Presidents from both parties have used recess appointments to deal with balky lawmakers and get their people on the job. But Obama's move infuriated McConnell, who called Berwick "one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care." Republicans fear the new health law will limit patients' choice in selecting care providers.

The Democratic majority in the Senate hasn't "scheduled so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick, but the mere possibility of allowing the American people the opportunity to hear what he intends to do with their health dare is evidently reason enough for this administration to sneak him through without public scrutiny," McConnell said in a statement. Not bringing Berwick forward to testify "about his plans for the care of our nation's seniors is truly outrageous," he said.

Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Montana), the chairman of the Finance Committee which would have considered the Berwick nomination, said he was troubled by the recess action. "Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power ... by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee, and answered," the Democrat said.

The AFL-CIO defended the president's move. "Dr. Berwick's appointment comes at a critical time, as key improvements in Medicare, for early retirees, and for Medicaid . . . go into effect this summer," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Obama also appointed Philip E. Coyle III as associate director for national security and international affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology, and Joshua Gotbaum as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

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