Obama’s “Bait and Switch” on the Berwick Nomination
Late on Friday, John McDonough published a blog post in the Boston Globe entitled “Why Berwick Matters.” He intended to use the posting as a means to attack Republicans – but in reality his revealing comments unwittingly serve as an indictment of Democrats, Obamacare, and Berwick for political gamesmanship over the nomination.
As many of you know, McDonough served as Sen. Kennedy’s point person on health “reform” through his senior post on the HELP Committee during 2009-10. It is therefore with a strong insider perspective that McDonough’s post included the following bombshell:
It was a thrilling moment when it became clear that Berwick had been selected by President-elect Barack Obama and the new Secretary of Health & Human Services, Tom Daschle, to run the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Finally, the key U.S. health agency would be headed by a physician thoroughly committed to fundamental quality and system improvement, as well as patient empowerment. It was a heady — and short-lived — moment.
If you think the reference to HHS Secretary Daschle was a typo, it wasn’t; the piece continues:
In late January 2009, Daschle’s nomination blew up over his unpaid taxes. Berwick’s nomination — which would have sailed through an easy confirmation in early 2009 — was held aside while a successor was recruited, and then the Administration began looking at other names. The health reform legislative campaign provided another reason to delay, and so it was not until April, 2010 that the President nominated Berwick.
In other words, the White House intended to have Berwick head CMS all along – but delayed the nomination until AFTER Obamacare passed, because it knew how controversial he was. What McDonough’s piece elides over is the fact that Daschle’s withdrawn nomination prompted the new Administration to engage in closer scrutiny of its nominees. It’s likely that Berwick’s history of support for British socialized medicine – including his comments about the NHS being a “seductress” – emerged at that time. At which point, according to McDonough’s account, the Administration scrapped the idea of nominating Berwick – at least until AFTER Obamacare passed. All of which raises the question: If Berwick was so unpopular that the Administration couldn’t bring itself to nominate Berwick in the light of day – i.e., to make a clear statement before Obamacare passed that Berwick would be the one to implement the law – why was ever he nominated at all?
McDonough concludes his blog post by saying that Senate Republicans engaged in “meaningful disrespect” of the nominee, a similar tone to the White House reaction that said “a small group of senators…[were] putting political interests above the best interests of the American people.” In reality however, McDonough’s account makes clear that the real disrespect was being driven by the Obama Administration, which refused for political reasons to inform the American people before Obamacare’s enactment that the unpopular health care bill would be implemented by an even more unpopular and controversial appointed bureaucrat.