President Obama’s recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick – a controversial advocate of socialized medicine and of government rationing of health care, particularly for the elderly – as head of the Medicare and Medicaid programs has so far received no attention on ABC’s World News or on the CBS Evening News, while the NBC Nightly News on Thursday devoted just 38 seconds to the President’s controversial move that circumvents a possibly bruising Senate confirmation hearing, barely touching on the nature of Berwick’s beliefs and their possible implications for the elderly. Broadcast network morning newscasts have similarly shown little to no interest in the subject. CNN’s The Situation Room devoted a full story to the appointment on Wednesday, but did little better than NBC in informing viewers of the significance of Berwick’s beliefs.
By contrast, FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier on Wednesday relayed to viewers that Berwick has not only advocated the type of socialized medicine that currently limits access to health care in Britain – favoring a non-free market system based on wealth redistribution – but he has also spoken in favor of government limiting access to some health care procedures for the elderly in favor of younger patients.
FNC correspondent Jim Angle filled in viewers on how the elderly would be treated under a system Berwick might advocate:
And then there are the end-of-life issues of particular interest for Medicare recipients. Berwick laments the amount of money spent on people in their final week of life and said that at some point additional treatments are "so expensive that our taxpayers have better use for those funds. We make those decisions all the time. The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open."
Angle quoted Berwick as contending that "Any health care funding plan that is just equitable, civilized and humane, must, must redistribute wealth," and touched on his admiration for Britain’s infamous national health care system:
JIM ANGLE: Berwick also praises one of the world's most famous examples of socialized medicine.
SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): He said he's in love with the British health care system, which is known for rationing health care.
On Thursday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams recited an anchor-read item noting that "One top Democrat called the recess appointment ‘troubling,’" but barely touched on the practical implications of the new Medicare head's beliefs as Williams briefly relayed that "Berwick has spoken about the need to ration medical care to control costs."
Williams also passed on the Obama administration's complaint that "this was one of many appointments being blocked by the Senate," but FNC's Angle noted that Obama had delayed selecting a nominee for the position for 17 months: "Republicans suspect President Obama didn't want a confirmation hearing where such statements were bound to come up and think that's why the President waited 17 months to nominate anyone."
On Wednesday’s The Situation Room on CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer introduced a report on the subject by noting that "Republicans and even a few Democrats are upset about this." But, like NBC’s Williams, CNN correspondent Dan Lothian only barely touched on Berwick’s support for "rationed health care" without delving into its implications: "Some Republicans pointing to him saying that the reason that they don't like him is because of comments that he has made in the past that they believe suggest that he's an advocate for rationed health care."
Below are transcripts of the relevant portions of the Wednesday, July 7, Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC, the same day’s The Situation Room on CNN, and the Thursday, July 8, NBC Nightly News :
#From the July 7 Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC:
SHANNON BREAM: Good evening. I'm Shannon Bream in tonight for Bret Baier. There is outrage in some quarters tonight because of President Obama's use of a recess appointment to install his controversial pick to run Medicare and Medicaid. Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle tells us why the reaction to Dr. Donald Berwick is so emotional.
JIM ANGLE: Donald Berwick will run the largest insurance program in the country because Medicare and Medicaid cover 100 million Americans and spend some $800 billion. But Berwick has said some things that are definitely not part of the administration's pitch on health care. "Any health care funding plan that is just equitable, civilized and humane," he said, "must, must redistribute wealth." Republicans suspect President Obama didn't want a confirmation hearing where such statements were bound to come up and think that's why the President waited 17 months to nominate anyone.
SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): He didn't want somebody to have to answer questions of members of Congress during the whole debate on health care this year.
DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: And his entire testimony is going to reinforce all the negative aspects of the bill. And that's why they didn't want him up there. They just pulled the plug on the hearings.
ANGLE: And then there are the end-of-life issues of particular interest for Medicare recipients. Berwick laments the amount of money spent on people in their final week of life and said that at some point additional treatments are "so expensive that our taxpayers have better use for those funds. We make those decisions all the time. The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open." Some elderly do prepare advanced directives should they become incapacitated, but critics say Berwick seemed to be saying something else.
WINSTON: He made it kind of sound like those decisions would be made by government bureaucrats and not the individuals.
ANGLE: And any talk of rationing care has enormous political implications.
WINSTON: What American people hear is this. Those people who have health care give up some of it to those people who don't. And so the quality of their health care is going to get worse.
ANGLE: Berwick also praises one of the world's most famous examples of socialized medicine.
BARRASSO: He said he's in love with the British health care system, which is known for rationing health care.
ANGLE: The White House argues Berwick is just one of 189 nominees waiting for confirmation.
ROBERT GIBBS: The President is going to install people that need to be installed for this government to run effective and efficiently.
ANGLE: And Gibbs notes that two Republicans who once held the same post have more positive views.
GIBBS: The last two people who have run CMS for the Bush administration both strongly supported Dr. Berwick's appointment.
ANGLE: Recess appointments have been used with frequency by presidents of both parties. President Clinton made 139. President George W. Bush 171. President Obama has made 18 so far. Dr. Berwick will now hold his position until the end of 2011, but if he wants to stay, he'll still have to face Senate confirmation.
#From the July 7 The Situation Room on CNN:
WOLF BLITZER: The White House is defending the President's decision to sidestep Congress to install his choice to oversee the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Republicans and even a few Democrats are upset about this. Republicans, I should say, are fuming. Even the top Democrat, though, says he is troubled by the move. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan, why did the White House go ahead with what's called this recess appointment?
DAN LOTHIAN: Well, Wolf, the President really thought it was important to move forward on this position because this is the person who plays a key role in implementing the new health care law. Now, all presidents obviously have the right to make these recess appointments, but they're always quite controversial. And Republicans, as you pointed out, are criticizing the President, saying that he’s circumventing the American people, it's an insult to the American people. Some Republicans pointing to him saying that the reason that they don't like him is because of comments that he has made in the past that they believe suggest that he’s an advocate for rationed health care. Robert Gibbs' White House spokesman saying that he doesn't believe that's the case. But what's also interesting about this controversy, as you pointed out, that also some top Democrats are criticizing the President. Senator Max Baucus – chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – saying he is troubled that rather than going through the standard nomination process the President has decided to go down this route. The bottom line for the White House here is that they decided to move forward because they believe that Congress has been throwing up a lot of road blocks.
ROBERT GIBBS: I think it's the type of politics that demonstrates just how badly broken the appointments process is, and the President is going to install people that need to be installed for this government to run effective and efficiently. In this case, because the appointments process is clearly broken, he did so through a recess appointment.
LOTHIAN: Republicans also saying here that the White House simply did not want to have a confirmation hearing because they did not want to have some tough questions asked. By the way, this appointment lasts until the end of 2011, Wolf.
BLITZER: If there had been a confirmation hearing, a formal confirmation hearing and testimony and all of that, does the White House believe he would have been confirmed?
LOTHIAN: Very good question, and Robert Gibbs was asked that today at the briefing. He says, yes, they believe that he would have been confirmed, but I'll tell you there are some key Republicans who had been looking to put up some road blocks during that hearing, so it's unclear hether or not there would have been enough votes there to get him through the Senate.
BLITZER: Very sensitive and controversial issue. Thanks very much, Dan Lothian, for that.
#From the July 8 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: In this country, a new political skirmish in Washington over health care. It's about an appointment President Obama made while Congress was out for the July Fourth break – a so-called recess appointment – naming Harvard professor Dr. Donald Berwick to manage Medicare and Medicaid, skipping the usual Senate confirmation process. Republicans are angry, claiming it's antagonistic. One top Democrat called the recess appointment "troubling," but the administration fired back, saying this was one of many appointments being blocked by the Senate. Berwick has spoken about the need to ration medical care to control costs.