GOP retaliates for Berwick recess appointment to Medicare leadership post

Senate Republicans are still fuming over the recess appointment of Donald Berwick to head the federal agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid.

In retaliation, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) 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.

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Also Wednesday evening, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee demanded a public hearing on Berwick.

Obama used his constitutional prerogative to circumvent Senate confirmation of Berwick by appointing him the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service during the July 4th recess.

Republicans struck back by blocking an effort to schedule a vote on two of Obama’s judicial picks: North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn and North Carolina Superior Court Judge Albert Diaz. Obama tapped both for the Fourth Circuit.

Both North Carolina senators, Kay Hagan (D) and Richard Burr (R), support the nominees. Three of the Fourth Circuit’s 15 judgeships are vacant.

Hagan attempted to bring the nominees to the floor for a vote but was rebuffed by McConnell, who cited the Berwick appointment.

“Democrats didn’t schedule so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick,” McConnell said. “The mere possibility of allowing the American people the opportunity to hear what he intends to do with their health care was evidently reason enough for this Administration to sneak him through without public scrutiny.

“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,” McConnell added.

Berwick, who served as president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston and as a professor at Harvard Medical School, drew GOP opposition because of past controversial comments.

In a 2008 speech, Berwick said he “fell in love” with Britain’s National Health Service, which he called “one of the greatest healthcare institutions” in history. Republicans have interpreted the remarks as praise for socialized medicine.


Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Finance panel, demanded that Democrats hold a hearing on Berwick so the public can learn of his record.

“We would request that the committee call a hearing as soon as possible so that the President's recess appointment does not result in circumventing the open public review that should take place for a nomination of such importance,” Grassley wrote in a July 14 letter to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

“The need for Dr. Berwick to be considered in a transparent and deliberative manner is all the more important because the agency will be responsible for numerous and significant changes to federal health programs including the largest Medicaid coverage expansion since the program’s creation,” Grassley wrote.