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GOP Leaders Mull Retaliation Over Recess Appointment

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Confidants of Sen. Mitch McConnell say Senate Republican leaders are discussing possible retaliatory moves over the recess appointment of Donald Berwick to a key health post.

The GOP has also attempted to tar Berwick for voicing support for a single-payer, government-run health care system in 1996, when he wrote: “I admit to my own devotion to a single-payer mechanism as the only sensible approach to health care finance I can think of.”

Regarding the UK’s National Health Service, Berwick said in a 2008 speech in London: “I fell in love with the NHS. ... To an American observer, the NHS is such a seductress.”

The Obama administration is coordinating with Congressional Democrats to roll out provisions of the new law in the hopes that its public standing improves and is not a liability in November.

Democrats argue that Berwick’s previously stated views on health care policy generally are irrelevant to his running CMS.

Whitehouse described Berwick as the “founding father of the quality reform movement” whose expertise in implementing the new health care law is vital. “If he said some things that are overly affectionate about the British health care system, big deal,” Whitehouse said.

But Republicans argue that Berwick’s views are on point precisely because the new CMS administrator will have enormous influence over the delivery of health care given how the new law will affect the Medicare and Medicaid systems. Republicans charge that the health care law’s mandate to cut $500 million from Medicare’s budget will lead to rationing, which Democrats deny.

“The comments of Sir Donald certainly give one extreme pause,” McCain said during the Tuesday morning conversation.

Sen. John Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon who participated in the colloquy, referred to Berwick as Obama’s “health care rationing czar.”

A few times per week, the Wyoming Republican hits the Senate floor to offer a “doctor’s second opinion” to the administration’s pitch that the new law will improve health care delivery and lower costs. His weekly remarks are part of a coordinated GOP strategy to frame the health law in a politically advantageous light in advance of the midterm elections.

While Senate Republicans mull what to do tactically in response to the Berwick nomination, which could include even more delays for other administration nominees, they are sure to continue pounding the administration rhetorically.

“The president just thumbed his nose at the American people by saying, ‘I’m not even going to allow the Senate to have a hearing on this nominee before we put him in the position,’” Alexander said.

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