By Ben Geman - 07/17/10 10:00 AM EDT
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) used the GOP’s weekly address to bash President Barack Obama’s recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to run Medicare and Medicaid, alleging it “flies in the face” of administration pledges of transparency.
Roberts attacked Berwick – who Obama appointed to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the July 4 congressional break – for several past statements, including his remark that health care funding plans should redistribute wealth from the richer to the poorest.
“Well, the obvious fear is Dr. Berwick will in fact use this position to redistribute the wealth in our country, cementing Obamacare as a giant, but stealthy, income transfer machine,” Roberts said.
Roberts called the use of a recess appointment – which allows presidents to bypass Senate confirmation – inappropriate, especially in light of the massive programs that Berwick will oversee.
“Without a public confirmation hearing on Dr. Berwick’s nomination, the Senate and the American people do not have the opportunity to learn about the man who will control one third of all health care spending in America,” he said.
But Obama defended the appointment of Berwick – who will oversee critical aspects of the new health care law – in an interview with NBC that aired Friday.
Obama slammed Senate obstruction of the nomination made in April, and said he opted for a recess appointment because matter was too urgent to be caught up in “political games.”
“[W]hen it comes specifically to appointments ... there have been more delays, obstruction and stalling when it comes to just appointing people to run the day-to-day aspects of Washington than any president has experienced in history,” Obama said. “And, you know, the fact of the matter is, is that I can’t play political games with the Senate on these issues. I’ve got a government to run.”
Roberts, however, seized on recent comments by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) criticizing the recess appointment to cast concern with the action as a bipartisan affair. Baucus on July 7 said he was “troubled” by the use of a recess appointment rather than the standard Senate confirmation process.
“I could not agree more with my Democrat colleague,” said Roberts, who sits on the Finance Committee as well as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which both have jurisdiction over major aspects of health policy.
“We urge the president to reconsider his recess appointment of Dr. Berwick and encourage the Finance Committee to at least hold a public hearing now,” he said.
“The president’s health care plan – the most sweeping overhaul of health care in our lifetime – cannot be implemented behind closed doors. This is a warning! Your health care and the care of your loved ones now hangs in the balance. Americans deserve answers,” Roberts added.