Obama cuts short nonsense on CMS nominee

OBAMA CUTS SHORT NONSENSE ON CMS NOMINEE…. Nearly three months ago, President Obama nominated Dr. Don Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — an agency without a permanent administrator since October 2006. The nomination was immediately hailed as a brilliant choice by policy experts from across the ideological spectrum. Senate confirmation should have been painless.

But Senate Republicans are Senate Republicans, and the Berwick nomination became a proxy fight for conservatives to complain about the Affordable Care Act in advance of the midterm elections. Yesterday, the White House decided to cut short the nonsense.

President Obama will bypass Congress and appoint Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a health policy expert, to run Medicare and Medicaid, the White House said Tuesday.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said the “recess appointment” was needed to carry out the new health care law. The law calls for huge changes in the two programs, which together insure nearly one-third of all Americans.

Mr. Pfeiffer said the president would appoint Dr. Berwick on Wednesday. Mr. Obama decided to act because “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,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.

As a recess appointee, Berwick would need Senate approval to stay on the job after the current appointment ends late next year.

He’ll likely do some very impressive work in the interim. Berwick, considered a visionary by those who’ve worked with him, is president and co-founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, works as a scholar at Harvard, and has earned a reputation as a champion of patients and consumers. Families USA Executive Director Ronald Pollack said the recess appointment “augurs well for the implementation of health care reform.”

And that’s really what this is all about — implementation of the new law. As Jonathan Cohn explained, “CMS director is always an important job. But it’s even more important now, as the Obama administration starts to implement health care reform. Not only must CMS prepare to deliver coverage to millions of new Medicaid recipients. It must also re-engineer Medicare itself, so that it pays for services in ways that foster better, more efficient care. Figuring out how to provide better care for less money is Berwick’s specialty, making him, at least on paper, a perfect choice for the job.”

Obama needed the CMS to get to work, and just wasn’t willing to endure months of inane Republican tactics.

Recess appointments aren’t ideal, but GOP abuses have become so common, I’m surprised the presidential power isn’t exercised more frequently. As Harold Pollack noted, “This goes to the basic capacity of American government to function well, our ability to find good people, efficiently scrutinize their qualifications and goals, and to put them to work addressing the nation’s serious problems.”