The White House's announcement today that they will bypass the nomination process of the United States Senate to recess appoint Donald Berwick as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is an act of unconscionable hubris.
The White House claims this act is in response to "Washington game-playing", accusing Republicans of planning to "stall the nomination" as long as possible. This is nothing more than a baldfaced lie. Republicans cannot stall this nomination -- it is impossible for them to do so under Senate rules -- as not one hearing has been called or scheduled. Even the New York Times doesn't buy the White House’s explanation, reporting: "The recess appointment was somewhat unusual because the Senate is in recess for less than two weeks and senators were still waiting for Dr. Berwick to submit responses to some of their requests for information."
In truth, it is the White House that is playing games with the health policy of the nation and the welfare of the American people. In bypassing the traditional process through which the Senate advises and consents to nominees, President Obama is preventing Senators and the people they represent from obtaining any answers from Mr. Berwick, who has repeatedly made claims and statements that raise numerous questions about his suitability for this critical position.
Such questions would have concerned his remarks attacking private-sector solutions to health care problems, in support of "rationing with our eyes open," and speaking of his affection for the United Kingdom's National Health Service as "romantic." In footage discovered and highlighted by the Heartland Institute in May, Mr. Berwick made this audacious statement: "Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized, and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."
Senators have expressed concerns about statements like these, as well as Mr. Berwick's background. He is a nominee with little management experience poised to head the second largest insurer on the planet, an agency with more funding to disperse than all but the top 15 economies in the world. In fact, the White House's decision to make this recess appointment is as much a demonstration of their unwillingness to have any debate about Mr. Berwick's views occur in the public eye as it is of their concern that some in their own party have privately questioned whether he is outside the mainstream.
Such questions are of course appropriate. Thanks to the White House's decision, they will not be answered. Understand: Mr. Berwick's position as head of CMS will give him unprecedented power to apply his views on health care policy under President Obama's new health care regime. Yet thanks to the White House's game playing, he will not answer one question, not one, before he is ensconced in a position where his radical policy views will ultimately effect the lives and health care of every American.
As we saw in the process of Obamacare's passage, there is nothing – not precedent, not tradition, not even the most basic expectations of fairness or responsible governance – that will stop President Obama and his allies in their quest to remake American social policy in their image.