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Appointment Of Dr. Donald Berwick

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my colleague from Arizona, I just came on to the floor and am not quite certain what happened earlier in this colloquy, but there is no doubt about it that they did not want Dr. Berwick's name to surface during the health care debate. They did not want any questions asked of him in public. We have had recess appointments, of course, by Presidents of both parties. Typically, they have gone through a hearing, a committee vote, and end up out here on the calendar so that at least there was some exposure to the nominee's views.

What we do know about this nominee is what he has said in the past about the British health care system. It is stunning that anybody in this country could look at the national health service in England and decide they were in love with it. So I would say to my friend from Arizona, and my friends from Wyoming and South Dakota, there is no question what they were up to here. They wanted to sneak this guy through with a minimum amount of exposure.

Mr. McCAIN. Could I mention to my friend that even one of our not so strong allies from the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus, wrote a column saying:

There are legitimate explanations for Berwick's more incendiary comments on health care. It's too bad he didn't get to offer them. A cynic--who, me?--might think that the administration simply preferred not to suffer the political downside of a public airing.

A cynic might wonder, with Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln facing a tough re-election fight, whether Berwick could even get through committee on a party-line vote. A cynic might think that the last thing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted before the election was a floor fight about rationing health care.

A cynic might look at the White House explanation--that it was urgent for CMS, without a confirmed administrator since 2006, to have a leader--and ask: Then why did you dither for 15 months before nominating someone?

In announcing the appointment, the president complained that ``many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes.'' True, but where's the evidence of delay in Berwick's case? You can't fairly accuse the other side of political gamesmanship when you short-circuit the process and storm off the court before the first set.

``To some degree, he's damaged goods,'' then-Sen. Barack Obama said in 2005 about John Bolton's recess appointment as United Nations ambassador.

Would the president say the same about Berwick?

An excellent column.

Mr. McCONNELL And that was Ruth Marcus.


Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend from Arizona, I do not know the answer to that. But we do know it was a curious, maybe not totally unprecedented but certainly unusual situation where a nominee is subjected to so little scrutiny and oversight--no questions, no opportunity to testify. This is a truly unusual situation. I think we know the answer as to why. This guy is in favor of rationing health care--openly, unabashedly, an advocate of rationing health care. I do not think they wanted to have him have to answer the questions. He may not have been very good at details, I say to my friend from South Dakota, but he got the big picture. And the big picture in his mind is:

The decision is not whether or not we will ration care--the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes [wide] open.

That is what he intends to do.

Mr. McCAIN. So a nominee whose clear philosophy of record indicates redistribution of wealth, as he describes it, and a use of health care in a way that includes greater and greater ``leveling of the small distribution of income in America''--does that give us some indication of the real intentions of the administration when they proposed health care reform in this package, despite the statements made by the President that if you like the health insurance policy you have, you can keep it; there will be no tax increases for people below $250,000, et cetera? Does this appointment of an individual with a clear-cut philosophy that this is a way to redistribute wealth in America indicate that maybe the real--again, not being a cynic, but would give us some idea of a real intent of this ``health care reform'' we resisted so strenuously for more than a year?

Mr. McCONNELL. I think my friend from Arizona has it exactly right. Every single Member of the Democratic Party in the Senate voted for a bill that is going to impose $500 billion of Medicare cuts over the next 10 years.

We have a physician, fortunately, in the Senate: Dr. Barrasso. He intends to reach that target, does he not, I would inquire of my friend from Wyoming, by rationing health care?

Mr. BARRASSO. Madam President, I believe the President of the United States, I say to my colleague and friend, now has what he wants: his health care rationing czar--not someone approved by the Senate but someone he has appointed and put into place without an open hearing.

It is so interesting, as my colleagues from Arizona and South Dakota talk about, that the failings of the British health care system--a system that Dr. Berwick says, ``I am romantic about; I love it; it is a national treasure, a global treasure,'' but then the headline today is: ``U.K. Will Revamp Its Health Service.'' It says: Health care experts called the plan one of the biggest shakeups in the national health service's 62-year history. Its new coalition government in Britain, grappling with weak public finances and rising health care costs, announced an overhaul of the state-funded health system that it said would put more power in the hands of the doctors and involves cutting huge swaths of bureaucracy.


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