In a July 8 New York Post op-ed, John Podhoretz advanced the false claim that Donald Berwick's recess appointment is "unprecedented," and that Obama is making the appointment "absent a controversy, ugly political battle or contentious confirmation hearing." As Media Matters has noted, the right-wing media has manufactured a controversy surrounding Berwick's confirmation by distorting comments he has made about the U.S. and U.K. health care systems. However, despite the suggestion that Berwick is a controversial, radical pick, he has support from both conservatives and health care experts. From the New York Post:
On Tuesday, the Obama administration decided to do something rather peculiar, somewhat shocking and politically fascinating: It circumvented the process by which the Senate advises and consents on executive-branch nominees.
The move, which seems unprecedented in subtle but important ways, promises increased chaos in Washington -- but also hope on health care.
President Obama wants a distinguished doctor named Donald Berwick to head up the office that administers Medicare and Medicaid -- two of the most expensive programs in the federal government. Ordinarily, the nomination would have gone through the process known as "confirmation," with a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee followed by a full vote of all 99 senators. (One seat is vacant due to the death of West Virginia's Robert Byrd.)
Instead, Obama decided to invoke his constitutional authority to appoint Berwick (and two other officials of lesser moment) to his post without having to be confirmed by the Senate. This is possible only when Congress is not in session, as is the case right now, and it's called a "recess appointment." It is designed to be temporary; it is valid only until that session of the Congress adjourns, which in this case will come at year's end.
That's what makes the administration's decision unprecedented in my nearly 30 years of closely following politics: I can't recall a preemptive decision to make a recess appointment absent a controversy, ugly political battle or contentious confirmation hearing.
And that's especially true when there's no indication there will be an effort to filibuster, which Democrats would likely have been able to override. (Berwick's credentials as a Harvard muckety-muck would have given the two Maine Republican moderate senators more than enough leeway to let him pass.)