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Obama Administration Recess-Appointing Don Berwick

In a blog post yesterday, the White House announced it would give a recess appointment to Don Berwick, the nominee to chair the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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. That’s why tomorrow the President will use a recess appointment to put Dr. Berwick at the agency’s helm and provide strong leadership for the Medicare program without delay.

CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006, and even many Republicans have called on the Administration to move to quickly to name a permanent head.

The punch line: Berwick was nominated in April. If the White House is so concerned about CMS lacking a permanent administrator, they could have made a nomination over a year earlier. Further, there are nominees languishing who have sat around for months, if not years, waiting for confirmation. Recess-appointing Berwick sends a clear message about priorities among nominees.

That’s not to say that Berwick isn’t a solid choice, and that the President, who at the end of the day mainly wants staff to get to work, shouldn’t have his choice without it becoming mired in the ongoing health care debate. Berwick, by most accounts, is a quality control freak, a leading innovator in providing more quality for less cost in health care. Given that we’ve tried the “less quality at more cost” approach for about 60 years and it hasn’t worked out too well for us, I’d say we should give the other way a shot.

In fact, if anything the White House should probably go bolder in this direction. While the Affordable Care Act implementation is obviously a top priority, across the federal government there are dozens if not hundreds of posts without leadership that is straining their ability to do their job. I don’t see the case for why Berwick must get a quick recess appointment but not these other nominees. Certainly Dawn Johnsen would agree.

UPDATE: Two other nominees got recess appointments today, leaving close to 180 others in the lurch. In addition to Berwick, the President appointed Philip E. Coyle to an advisory position in the Office of Science and Technology in the White House, and Joshua Gotbaum as Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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