Just how controversial was Barack Obama’s appointment of Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)? Even with an 18-seat majority in the Senate, Obama shrank from having Berwick even show up at a hearing. Instead, Obama will use a recess appointment to get Berwick a pass from Congressional oversight:
With Congress officially on recess, President Obama will on Wednesday use his ability to make recess appointments to name one of his more controversial nominees: Donald Berwick, nominee to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The April nomination of Berwick — president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement — was in trouble and might not have been able to meet Senate confirmation due to comments Berwick made in the past about rationing health care. Even if Berwick could have been confirmed by the Senate, Democrats have little appetite for another round of fighting about changes to the health care system, Democrats said.
At this point in his presidency, Jake Tapper points out, George W. Bush had made 15 recess appointments. Democrats claimed that Bush was so abusive of the privilege that they started keeping the Senate in session continuously after taking control of the chamber in January 2007 to block any more recess appointments. How many recess appointments has Obama made? Eighteen.
Ben Domenech gives us an insight into why Obama feared Berwick’s appearance at a Senate confirmation hearing:
And speaking of transparency:
The White House claims this act is in response to “Washington game-playing”, accusing Republicans of planning to “stall the nomination” as long as possible. This is nothing more than a baldfaced lie. Republicanscannot stall this nomination — it is impossible for them to do so under Senate rules — as not one hearing has been called or scheduled. Even the New York Times doesn’t buy the White House’s explanation, reporting: “The recess appointment was somewhat unusual because the Senate is in recess for less than two weeks and senators were still waiting for Dr. Berwick to submit responses to some of their requests for information.”
In truth, it is the White House that is playing games with the health policy of the nation and the welfare of the American people. In bypassing the traditional process through which the Senate advises and consents to nominees, President Obama is preventing Senators and the people they represent from obtaining any answers from Mr. Berwick, who has repeatedly made claims and statements that raise numerous questions about his suitability for this critical position.
It’s one thing to use a recess appointment when a President thinks that Congress has stalled a nomination unfairly, although it still may arguably be an abuse of the privilege; the recess clause was intended to allow Presidents to fill urgent openings without quickly recalling Congress into session, a difficult prospect in those days. It’s quite another to use the power to appoint someone who hasn’t bothered to fully respond to initial inquiries for information. That speaks to a certain lack of intestinal fortitude in providing the accountability demanded by the Constitution of the executive branch to the legislative branch.
No one “stalled” Berwick. The truth is that Obama was afraid to have Berwick questioned by Congress, which should have everyone questioning his suitability for the position, even without considering his prior statements on wealth redistribution and slobbering fanboyism of the British state-run health service.