It's final: Obama makes Berwick Medicare chief

President Barack Obama on Wednesday appointed Donald Berwick to head the agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid — a key position as the administration begins to implement the many reforms of the Democrats' health reform law. 

A number of Senate Republicans have opposed Berwick based on 2008 statements the Harvard pediatrician made in praise of Britain's nationalized healthcare system. Those critics would have made it tough for Democratic leaders to wrangle the 60 votes needed to push Berwick through the upper chamber, leading Obama to choose the recess appointment option this week.

"It’s unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes," Obama said in a statement. "With more than 180 nominees still pending before the Senate, it’s my hope that my colleagues in Congress will agree to put politics aside and move forward on these vitally important positions.”

The Constitution allows recess appointees to serve until the end of the congressional session that follows the year of their appointment. Berwick's term, therefore, will expire in late 2011, unless the Senate approves him before then.