Refusing to allow Republicans to delay implementation of reform any longer and trying to avoid a Republican hold, President Obama recess appointed Harvard Professor Don Berwick to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a position vacant since 2006. Republicans, who had had characterized Berwick as a proponent of “health care rationing,” took to the Senate floor to condemn Obama for installing Berwick before he even had a chance to appear before the Senate Finance Committee. The GOP admitted that they had criticized the nominee but argued that they had not held up his nomination and would have treated his confirmation fairly:
— SEN. JON KYL: (R-AZ): But for anybody to suggest that Republicans are to blame for the fact that Dr. Berwick’s nomination didn’t come to a vote or wasn’t brought to the senate floor is sheer fantasy. We have not held up the nomination. We have not prested a vote. We haven’t — We have not prevented a vote. [7/12/2010]
— SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: (R-AZ): But where’s the evidence of delay in Berwick’s case? It can’t fairly accuse the other side of political gamesmanship when you short circuit the process and storm off the court before the first set. [7/13/2010]
— SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): The nomination hasn’t been held up by Republicans in Congress and to say otherwise is misleading. [7/7/2010]
Ironically, the Republicans are now showcasing their desire for a fair and transparent nomination process by delaying two other nominations in retaliation for Berwick’s appointment. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has “blocked a Democratic request Wednesday evening to advance two of President Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit,” the Hill reports. “Democrats didn’t schedule so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick,” McConnell said. “So given that the President has been so dismissive of the Senate’s right to provide advice and consent under the Constitution, I am not inclined at this point to consent to the agreement proposed by my friend from North Carolina,” he added.
The GOP is also demanding to hear from Berwick, and has written a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) asking him to call Berwick to testify.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.