GOP senators to Obama: Scrap Medicare nominee

Forty-two Senate Republicans wrote to President Obama on Thursday asking him to withdraw the nomination of Don Berwick as head of the Medicare agency.

The president gave the controversial nominee a recess appointment last July, to the dismay of Republicans who accuse him of favoring healthcare rationing. Obama renominated Berwick in January, setting the stage for partisan fights in the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate.

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The letter was first reported by the Associated Press.

Berwick is a well-respected healthcare expert who specialized in the trade-off between healthcare quality and costs at the Boston-based nonprofit Institute of Healthcare Improvement. His statements of support for Great Britain's National Health Service and his call for "rationing with our eyes open" created controversy when he took the lead of the nation's largest healthcare system, which manages about 100 million individuals.

“His past record of controversial statements, and general lack of experience managing an organization as large and complex as CMS should disqualify him being confirmed as the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] Administrator,” the senators wrote Thursday.

After being grilled on his healthcare statements by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, Berwick said he hoped he was able to put rationing fears to rest.

“A lot of the quotes represent misconceptions about what I believe,” Berwick told reporters. “They are selected — small lines from long papers — and I said what I believe.”

Republicans have coupled Berwick’s recess appointment with their opposition to the methods used by Democrats to pass the landmark healthcare reform law last year.

“You repeatedly pledged, both as a candidate and as President that you would usher in a new era of transparency in our government,” the senators wrote to Obama. “However, the process used in the enactment of the health care law, combined with the end-run around Congress with the recess appointment of Dr. Berwick, both contradict your pledge.”

Republican Senators not signing the letter include: Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

This article was updated at 2:45 p.m.