Last week, President Obama announced that he would be recess appointing Harvard physician Donald Berwick to be the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Conservatives — who have fear-mongered about Berwick’s praise for the British health care system — quickly attacked Obama for the move, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claiming that the president has attempted to “arrogantly circumvent the American people.”
Today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended Berwick’s recess appointment during the White House press briefing. When asked about the propriety of using recess appointments, Gibbs pointed out that, in the first year of the Bush administration, there weren’t any nominees stopped because the Senate failed to reach unanimous consent, but that under the Obama administration, that has happened 21 times.
Using the example of the GSA administrator, Gibbs noted that it took 10 months just to get a vote on the nominee; Republicans were preventing votes on nominees is simply about them “playing politics…just to stop things from happening”:
Q: You just talked about the badly broken process. Is using recess appointments to circumvent the Senate an example of that process?
GIBBS: It’s a result of that broken process, yes.
Q: Does the President believe that recess appointments should be used sparingly?
GIBBS: The President believes that we have to have people to run government effectively and efficiently. … The process should entitle one to quick disposition. That’s clearly not happening. … I used the example of the GSA nominee. In the first year of the Bush administration, no nominee had to go through the process of invoking cloture because somebody wouldn’t agree to unanimous consent. Basically, one person can stop this whole process. That’s happened 21 times in the Obama administration. … If it takes 10 months to get a unanimous vote, what is one left to believe the 10 months was about? Playing the kind of politics that people are tired of in order just to stop things from happening. [...]
There are aspects of the health care law that have to be implemented on a timeline that I’m sure many who oppose Dr. Berwick for political reasons did not want to see implemented. We are not going to have the viewpoints of a few hold up the law of the land.
Indeed, conservative obstruction of the federal appointments process has been at historically high levels. In the area of judicial nominees alone, Obama has only been able to have 36 percent of his nominees approved, while 91 percent of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter’s nominees were approved during the same time period. Meanwhile, Republicans have set a new historical record for use of the filibuster.