Hatch Frustrated Over Obama’s Recess Appointment of Medicare Chief, But Not Ready to Filibuster to Force Hearing

August 3, 2010 - 5:58 PM
Blocking all legislation to force a hearing on Dr. Donald Berwick, the controversial nominee President Barack Obama recess-appointed to run Medicare and Medicaid, would not be the best course, according to Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah).

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) (Congressional photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Blocking all legislation to force a hearing on Dr. Donald Berwick, the controversial nominee President Barack Obama recess-appointed to run Medicare and Medicaid, would not be the best course, according to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
 
“Some people think if we did that, it just lends credibility that we’re filibustering everything and we’re the party of no,” Hatch told CNSNews.com on Monday during a conference call.
 
Last week, his Republican colleagues, Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas, said they were open to filibustering any and all legislation in the Senate until the Democrats set a hearing for Berwick.
 
Dr. Berwick is controversial because he supports rationing health care services, has said a “just” health-care funding plan “must redistribute wealth,” and has praised Britain’s government-run National Health Service.
 
President Obama nominated Berwick back in April and then recess-appointed him on July 7, while Congress was away on its July 4 vacation. The Senate Finance Committee, headed by Sen. Max Baucus (D- Mont.), never held a hearing for Berwick.
 
Hatch, a member of the Senate Finance Committee that would be charged with holding a hearing on Berwick’s nomination to be the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, stressed his frustration with the Democratic leadership.
 
“We would like to do some bipartisan things,” Hatch said. “But you can’t do them when they don’t have hearings, don’t have any questions in committee, and throw up a parliamentary tree when you bring it to the floor and make it to where you can’t even bring up an amendment. It’s only with the approval of the majority leader. The Senate has never been run in such a shabby way.”
 
He believes the CMS administrator job is too important a position to name without the advice and consent of the Senate.
Donald Berwick

Dr. Donald Berwick, nominated by President Obama to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is expected to get the job through a recess appointment on Wednesday, July 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Goodman Media International, Inc.)

“Here’s an agency that is over $800 billion, more than the whole Defense Department, and he [Obama] recess appoints this man,” Hatch said. “Why? They’ve got 59 votes in the Senate. Why did they need a recess appointment? Because they didn’t want the public to hear some of the loony things that this man has said.”
 
The recess appointment was made when Congress was out of session in July and could last until the end of 2011 if Berwick is not confirmed by the Senate.
 
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs previously declined to answer whether the White House was concerned about the political consequences of a public hearing on Berwick’s nomination. Gibbs also would not say whether Obama agreed with Berwick’s views on the redistribution and rationing of health care.
 
On July 1, 2008, Berwick gave a speech to honor the 60th anniversary of the government-run National Health Service in Britain. During the speech, Berwick said, “You could have had a monstrous insurance industry of claims and rules and paper-pushing instead of using your tax base to provide a single route of finance. You could have protected the wealthy and the well, instead of recognizing that sick people tend to be poorer and that poor people tend to be sicker. And that any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must – must -- redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional. Britain, you chose well.”
 
Hatch said Berwick “is an excellent doctor and an excellent pediatrician and an excellent professor.” But he stressed that the problem is with the views Berwick  has expressed.
 
“I would understand a recess appointment if he had a hearing and the Democrats have the votes to get him out and Republicans hold him up,” Hatch said. “That’s maybe the time to do a recess appointment, if any. I’d rather not have a recess appointment for someone this important.”
 
White House officials have blamed Senate Republicans, alleging they would have held up the nomination given the opportunity. However Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, has also expressed disappointment that Berwick’s nomination did not go through normal advice and consent procedures.
 
Hatch believes blaming Republicans in ridiculous.
 
“They didn’t even have a hearing for Dr. Berwick,” Hatch said. “The White House blames Republicans for that. Give me a break. The least they could have done is have a hearing and then use their 59 votes to get him out.”