WAHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Wednesday appointed health care expert Donald Berwick to administer the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, bypassing the Senate confirmation process over strong objections from Republicans who oppose the choice.
Obama used a recess appointment to name Berwick, a 63-year-old pediatrician, Harvard University professor and head of a nonprofit health care institute, to the post that oversees the $800 billion-a-year program that provides health care to the nation's elderly, poor and disabled. He was nominated in April, but no confirmation hearing was scheduled. The appointment during a congressional recess allows him to serve through 2011 without Senate confirmation.
Obama also used recess appointments Wednesday to install Philip E. Coyle III as associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Joshua Gotbaum as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
In a statement announcing the moves, Obama accused Senate Republicans of stalling dozens of his appointments for political ends. Republicans blasted the appointments, particularly that of Berwick, who they say supports the rationing of health care to lower costs.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called the recess appointment "an insult to the American people" and said Obama "has made a mockery of his pledge to be accountable and transparent."
Berwick has praised Britain's National Health Service, and has said that "any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must - must - redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorest and less fortunate."
Obama has made 18 recess appointments, including the three announced Wednesday. By comparison, President George W. Bush made 23 recess appointments by the end of his second year in office and 171 recess appointments during his eight years in office. Bill Clinton made a total of 139.