Hatch: There’s ‘All Kinds of Pressure’ by Democratic Caucus Not to Have Hearings on Berwick

By Nicholas Ballasy | July 19, 2010 | 7:15 PM EDT

This undated handout provided by Goodman Media International, Inc., shows Donald Berwick. President Barack Obama is planning to appoint the head of Medicare and Medicaid without Senate hearings. Obama intends to use a so-called recess appointment to put Berwick in charge of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a White House official said Tuesday night. (AP Photo/ Goodman Media International, Inc.)

(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said there is “all kinds of pressure” by the Democratic Caucus on Committee Chairman Max Baucus not to call in President Obama’s recess-appointee to run Medicare and Medicaid, Dr. Donald Berwick, for hearings, which are constitutionally mandated.
Hatch added that there “must be a reason why they don’t want him” to testify before the committee, and said he thinks it is because of the “outlandish viewpoints” that Berwick has expressed over many years.
Obama nominated Berwick to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) on Apr. 19. Senator Baucus never called a hearing for Berwick. On July 7, while Congress was away on the July 4 vacation, Obama recess-appointed Berwick to the CMS position.
On Capitol Hill, CNSNews.com asked Senator Hatch, “On July 1, 2008, in a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of Britain’s single-payer health-care system, Dr. Donald Berwick, President Obama’s recess-appointee to run Medicare and Medicaid said, quote, ‘Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must – must -- redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate.’ Do you agree with that or disagree with that?”

Hatch said, “He’s made a lot of statements that are very controversial. Look, there’s no question he’s an excellent pediatrician, he’s a very competent doctor, he’s a professor, he’s taught medicine -- but he’s made some of the most outlandish statements I’ve ever heard.
“Look, the reason we have the United States Senate, the reason we have the Senate Finance Committee, is to hold hearings so that we can look into these people and see just what should be known about them. And I think it’s ridiculous to have someone who’s going to head CMS, which is a huge part of the economy, and not have one opportunity to question him about his viewpoints.”
Hatch continued, “I mean, the Democrats have the votes to put him through. I suspect. But the fact of the matter is, is that he ought to at least have to appear before the committee, at least express himself and express himself in a reasonable way.”
Finance Committee Republicans recently wrote a letter to Chairman Baucus asking him to hold confirmation hearings on the recess-appointed Berwick, whose nomination has not yet been formally withdrawn by the White House from consideration in the Senate.

“I know that there’s all kind of pressure on Chairman Baucus by his caucus,” Hatch told CNSNews.com. “They don’t want him to testify and there must be some reason why they don’t want him to -- and I suspect it’s the kind of outlandish viewpoints that he’s expressed from time to time which really need to be reviewed.”
“He may be able to explain those away and establish himself as a true leader at CMS that this country needs, but until those are explained away, there’s always going to be a cloud over him and, I think, over this administration for putting somebody into this very, very important position without having the oversight that Congress is supposed to provide,” said Hatch.
“The Constitution says advise and consent,” said Hatch. “Well, we’re supposed to advise the president and we’re supposed to consent, but only after we’ve looked at these matters and know what we’re talking about and that’s what hearings are all a part (of).”
“That’s what this important committee is all about,” he said, “and they’ve been bypassing this Finance Committee time after time after time just bringing matters to the floor without even having the, you know, the important discussions, important hearings, important reviews that this committee’s always been known for -- and I don’t agree with that. I think it’s wrong.”
CNSNews.com also asked Hatch, “Do you think there was any pressure from the administration on the Finance Committee, specifically [on] Chairman Baucus not to have a hearing?”
Hatch said, “Well, it sure looks like it. I mean, look, normally you hold hearings about something, about someone nominated for a position of that dimension, that importance, and you don’t just recess-appoint somebody without having hearings or without at least having the people in this country understand what he’s all about.”
CMS’ budget is currently larger than the Pentagon’s. Hatch said the decisions Berwick will make as CMS director will “basically affect every American.”
“I mean, that’s what the committee’s for, that’s what Congress is for, and this is not some itty bitty job,” said Hatch. “This is big time, hundreds of billions of dollars every year goes through CMS and the decisions they make are going to affect basically every American in the county. So, this [a Senate committee hearing] is just something that you would say ordinarily has to happen.”
The Finance Committee’s majority press office did not return requests for comment.