Berwick recess appointment is unremarkable
Yesterday the blogosphere, particularly its conservative wing, was aflutter about the fact that the President has chosen to recess appoint Donald Berwick as the Director of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare.
Indeed, conservative pols were up in arms about the President’s latest act of treason. As reported by Senatus, Senator Pat Roberts was, “deeply disappointed.” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the appointment, “truly outrageous.” And Senator John Barraso said the President’s decision was, “an insult to the American people.”
Even Democrat Max Baucus described himself as, “troubled,” over the appointment . But how controversial is the President’s decision?
Well, for Republicans it is potentially very controversial. If Berwick is successful in getting Medicare and Medicaid costs under control while avoiding compromises in quality — an exercise for which he is a significantly qualified expert as I noted a few weeks ago — it will take much of the wind out of Republican sails given their focus on health care reform as a vote determining issue in November. The potential political losses involved with Berwick’s success might have more to do with Republican intransigence than anything else.
For the rest of us? You might not like the idea of a recess appointment in principle, but in practice it is not nearly as controversial Republicans would have you believe.
According to ABC’s Jake Tapper, the Berwick appointment brings President Obama to a total of 18 recess appointments. That’s a rate of almost exactly one (1) appointment per month in office. If the President maintains that rate, he will rack up 48 appoints over a four (4) year term, 96 if he wins re-election in 2012.
According to the Associated Press; however, President George W. Bush, “made more than 170 such appointments in his two-term presidency.” And President Bill Clinton made, “nearly 140”. Those are rates of roughly 1.77 appointments per month and 1.46 appointments per months respectively for the two previous Presidents.
And neither former President was a wall flower about all of their appointments,
President George W. Bush placed several judges on U.S. courts of appeals via recess appointments when Senate Democrats filibustered their confirmation proceedings. In one controversial case, Judge Charles Pickering, appointed to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, chose to withdraw his name from consideration for re-nomination when his recess appointment expired. President Bush also appointed Judge William H. Pryor, Jr. to the bench of the Eleventh Circuit Court during a recess, after the Senate repeatedly failed to vote on Pryor’s nomination.
President Bill Clinton was harshly criticized for his recess appointment of Bill Lan Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights, when it became clear that Lee’s strong support of affirmative action would lead to Senate opposition.
Which is to say that not only is President Obama’s rate of appointment lower than his predecessors, but his appointment of Berwick to a politically sensitive position is relatively unremarkable, as well.
I’m not such a fan of the idea that executives can go ahead and side step the elected bodies designated as their checks and balances at will. But if we’re going to judge President Obama on this decision fairly, we ought at least to be comparing apples to apples.