Berwick Recess Appointment Highlights Broken Nomination Process

CMS Nominee Donald Berwick

Donald Berwick

Steve Benen highlights Robert Gibb’s explanation for why President Obama had to recess appoint Don Berwick and observes that the entire nominating process has fallen apart within today’s hyper-politicized environment:

Putting aside the merits of the Berwick move, can anyone come up with a credible reason to disagree with Gibbs’ criticism of the system? Can anyone seriously look at the existing process and think it’s an effective way for an advanced democratic government to operate in the 21st century?

A civics textbook would make it seem simple — the president chooses a nominee for a government post, and the nomination goes to the Senate. A relevant committee holds a hearing and considers the nominee’s qualifications. From there, the nomination goes to the Senate floor, and if a majority approves, he or she can get to work on the country’s behalf.

And that was a fairly straightforward system for most of American history. But as we’ve seen of late, that process has completely fallen apart. Some of this has to do with the Senate having confirmation authority over far too many administrative positions, but most of it has to do with blind, petty obstructionism — holds and/or filibusters that can delay consideration of nominees for months, and in some cases, well over a year.

This is particularly true in the Berwick nomination. Recall that Republicans caricatured Berwick as a British-loving-health-care-rationer just days after Obama announced his nomination. On several occasions they condemned Berwick from the Senate floor without conducting a full review of his record or meeting with the nominee. They sought to use his nomination to revive the health care debate and delay the implementation of health care reform — a delay they would have undoubtedly blamed on the Democrats.

The recess appointment accomplished two important objectives. It avoided the dog and pony show of a nomination process in which every Republicans would have stripped Berwick’s quotes of any context and used the occasion to revive the death panels rhetoric that looks so good in a campaign fund raising letter. And, it helped keep the implementation of reform on track, all the while ensuring the appointment of a man who was most qualified to lead the department. This wasn’t only good politics, it was also good government.