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Baucus on Berwick

Tevi Troy

The White House’s plan to lay all of the blame for the Obama administration’s recess appointment of Dr. Don Berwick on recalcitrant Republicans appears to have been upended by Democratic senator and Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, who has criticized the Berwick recess appointment: “Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects . . . all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered.”

This did not sit well with the Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter, who wrote that his comments demonstrate that “Max Baucus proves, yet again, that he’s a major obstacle to any improvement in our nation’s health-care system. Now he’s throwing a hissy fit over Obama’s recess appointment of Donald Berwick.” McCarter is wrong. Baucus’s comments are not about Baucus’s views on health care but his prerogatives as chairman of the relevant committee.

As someone who has gone through the confirmation process via Senator Baucus’s committee, I know that he takes the confirmation process seriously. I haven’t always agreed with some of his decisions, such as his opposition to well-qualified Bush appointees Kerry Weems and Dan Meron. Nevertheless, everyone who is confirmed after going through the Finance Committee process under Baucus knows that they have been thoroughly vetted. The Obama administration has now taken that opportunity away from Dr. Berwick.

As I wrote yesterday, there is nothing wrong with the president exercising his recess appointment power, as long as the nominee has had a hearing and responded to the queries in the Senate. But a recess without a hearing is extraordinary, and makes it seem as if the White House wanted Dr. Berwick to avoid the opportunities the confirmation process provides to elaborate on his views. Chairman Baucus is understandably frustrated by the loss of those opportunities.

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