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Obama Sidesteps Senate To Appoint New Medicare-Medicaid Chief

President Barack Obama 05212010 07Jul10

With Congress out of town for the July 4th recess, President Barack Obama Wednesday bypassed the Senate and appointed Dr. Donald Berwick to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Obama also announced two other recess appointments.

"It's unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes," Obama said. "These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away."

He added, "With more than 180 nominees still pending before the Senate, it's my hope that my colleagues in Congress will agree to put politics aside and move forward on these vitally important positions."

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a blog post on the White House website Tuesday that the recess appointment of Dr. Berwick is necessary in light of the new responsibilities the CMS faces under the health care reform bill.

Pfeiffer said, "Many Republicans in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points."

"But with the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors' care under the Affordable Care Act, there's no time to waste with Washington game-playing," he added.

He noted that the CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006 and claimed that even some Republicans have called for the Administration to quickly name a permanent head.

"There's no question that Don Berwick is the right choice to be our next CMS administrator: he's the founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and has spent decades as a practicing physician and a Harvard professor," Pfeiffer said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., released a statement Tuesday that was highly critical of the decision.

McConnell said, "As if shoving a trillion dollar government takeover of health care down the throat of a disapproving American public wasn't enough, apparently the Obama Administration intends to arrogantly circumvent the American people yet again by recess appointing one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care to implement their national plan."

"Democrats haven't scheduled so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick but the mere possibility of allowing the American people the opportunity to hear what he intends to do with their health care is evidently reason enough for this Administration to sneak him through without public scrutiny," he added.

Some Democrats were also disappointed by the recess appointments, with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., saying, "I'm troubled that, rather than going through the standard nomination process, Dr. Berwick was recess appointed."

He added, "Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee - and answered."

In addition to Dr. Berwick, Obama also used recess appointments to make Philip Coyle the Associate Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology and to make Joshua Gotbaum the Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Obama last used recess appointments in March to fill fifteen critical administration posts, including appointing Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.

President George W. Bush made several high-profile recess appointments during his time in office, including naming John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the UN.

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