Dems Inaccurately Claim GOP Blocked Berwick Nomination, Media Happy to Play Along

July 8th, 2010 12:34 PM

The GOP as the party of obstructionism: it's a tried and true media meme, but very often falls a tad short of the truth. Yet on occasion, even stubborn facts are not enough to dispel such accusations.

Some in the media have taken President Obama's recess appointment of Donald Berwick to the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as an occasion to bash purportedly obstructionist congressional Republicans. Just one problem: the GOP didn't hold up the nomination.

In fact, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which would have had jurisdiction over Berwick's appointment, said he "requested that a hearing take place two weeks ago, before this recess." Presumably, Grassley wanted to shine light on some of Berwick's more controversial positions, such as support for the rationing of care and his of the use of the health care system to redistribute wealth.

President Obama apparently did not want those views examined. He issued a statement on Wednesday accusing "many in Congress" of "delay[ing] critical nominations for political purposes."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., echoed this sentiment, claiming in a statement that "Republican lockstep stalling of Don’s nomination was a case study in cynicism and one awful example of how not to govern."

Of course we know, courtesy of a stellar fact-checking job by Jake Tapper, that these claims are bogus. But inaccuracies in political statements from leading partisans are nothing to write home about.

But some media outlets simply parroted these claims without bothering to check whether they were, you know, accurate. So while ABCBSNBC have all but ignored the story , the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the New York Daily News all went one step further, and gave an unchallenging megaphone to Obama's and Kerry's inaccurate claims.

The Times reported:

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said the “recess appointment” was needed to carry out the new health care law. The law calls for huge changes in the two programs, which together insure nearly one-third of all Americans.

Mr. Pfeiffer said the president would appoint Dr. Berwick on Wednesday. Mr. Obama decided to act because “many Republicans in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.

The Daily News echoed:

Berwick supporters scoffed at GOP complaints and accused them of stonewalling.

"Republican lockstep stalling of Don's nomination was a case study in cynicism and one awful example of how not to govern," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). "Republicans screamed that these federal programs were in trouble, then tried to deny the Administration the capable guy the President had chosen to oversee them."

The Globe printed Kerry's statement, and noted that "Obama…blamed Republicans for forcing his hand."

But as Tapper noted yesterday,

...Republicans were not delaying or stalling Berwick’s nomination.

Indeed, they were eager for his hearing, hoping to assail Berwick’s past statements about health care rationing and his praise for the British health care system...

White House officials and Senate Democrats argue that Republicans weren’t acting in good faith, that they were hoping to use Berwick’s nomination to demagogue the career of a widely-respected pediatrician praised by myriad medical organizations as well as President George W. Bush’s CMS administrators. Democrats say that the GOP was planning to use this confirmation fight to re-litigate the health care legislation battle, a fight they lost.

Is the desire to avoid that debate enough of a justification for a recess appointment?

Does using the Constitutional recess appointment prerogative so as to avoid having to expend political energy and capital on a fight one doesn't want to wage – does that live up to the president’s stated promise of transparency?

For many Democrats, the answer is yes. They argue that GOP obstructionism and the desire of certain Republican senators to unfairly assail Berwick as a sort of death panel advocate drove the President to make the recess appointment.

In other words, the recess appointment had nothing to do with "obstructionism" and everything to do with Democrats' fears that the GOP would "re-litigate the health care legislation battle," and raise the specter of health care rationing, which, contrary to many media claims, is quite real.

If those are the reasons for Obama's choice, the media should report it as such, rather than trumpeting inaccurate claims meant to shield unpopular policies from criticism.