Baucus envisions Berwick testimony 'in the near future'

The office of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Wednesday that the Montana Democrat "fully expects" new Medicare chief Donald Berwick to testify before the panel "in the near future."

The comment came not long after Finance Republicans wrote to Baucus urging a hearing on Berwick, who eluded formal congressional scrutiny when President Obama last week used a controversial recess appointment to install the Harvard-based pediatrician at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

The White House reasoned that any short-term criticism of that move would be outweighed by the benefit of avoiding another long-winded debate on healthcare reform. 

Most Democrats welcomed the recess appointment, arguing that Republicans, intent on blocking Berwick, had left the White House little choice. But Baucus called the maneuver a "troubling" evasion of the Senate confirmation process — a sentiment his office reiterated Wednesday.

"Ensuring that health care reform is implemented properly to deliver the high quality care and affordable coverage the law was designed to produce is an oversight role Chairman Baucus takes seriously," a Finance Committee aide said in an email, "and he fully expects that CMS Administrator Berwick will testify before the Committee on that topic and other important health policy matters in the near future."