Barack Obama’s renomination of Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) came as a surprise on Capitol Hill. Presidents do not usually renominate recess appointments after a recess ends their term unless the recess appointment was a true emergency or the President in question wants to make a point. In Berwick’s case the decision makes even less sense, as Obama gave the controversial Berwick the recess appointment without even allowing the Senate to hold a single hearing when his party had nearly a supermajority in the Senate. Indeed, Berwick didn’t even do the Senate the courtesy of completing his questionnaire before Obama bypassed Capitol Hill.
Needless to say, Republicans in the Senate aren’t about to give Berwick an easy ride on what would be his first job interview in the Senate, and now Democrats have decided that they’re not too keen to turn it into a fight, either:
Senate Democrats have given up on confirming Don Berwick as CMS administrator in the wake of a letter from 42 Republican senators opposing the nomination, sources tell POLITICO. …
At a meeting with health care lobbyists Friday, Democratic Senate Finance Committee staffers indicated that the nomination is dead, that there will be no confirmation hearing, and that they’ll soon be discussing “next steps” for CMS, sources said.
In fairness, some of the Democrats were angered by Obama’s ham-fisted move last year in giving Berwick his recess appointment. Max Baucus would have voted to confirm Berwick the first time around but ended up blasting the White House for bypassing his committee. The fact that five Republicans didn’t sign the letter would normally have provided the Democrats an opening to drive a wedge and use hearings to paint the GOP as radical and extreme. Their decision to throw in the towel this early in the process shows that Berwick’s re-nomination was none too popular within their caucus as well.
The question will be whether Obama accepts defeat this time and picks someone less controversial to run Medicare and Medicaid, or whether he sticks a thumb in the Senate’s eye and gives Berwick another recess appointment. Given the infighting between the White House and Senate Democrats on the budget, Obama will probably decide that discretion is the better part of valor in this case and look for Plan B.