President Obama's top political aide said Sunday the White House made a health care recess appointment last week with an eye to heading off a political fight in the middle of an election campaign, though he denied the charge that they did it to keep the nominee's views from being aired publicly.
Mr. Obama has come under fierce criticism, including from a key Democratic committee chairman, after he bypassed the Senate and made a recess appointment last week of Harvard Professor Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Dr. Berwick's Senate questionnaire wasn't complete and Democrats had not yet scheduled a hearing for the nomination, but Mr. Axelrod said they feared Republican obstruction.
"What we don't want in this midst of an election is to let this be drawn out in a long kind of political circus while the job that needs to be done is not getting done, or not getting done with the man who should be doing it," David Axelrod told ABC's "This Week" program.
The appointment has been criticized by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, whose committee had jurisdiction and who said the move denied senators the chance to have their questions asked and answered.
Republicans were harsher still, accusing Mr. Obama of using his powers under the Constitution to short-circuit the Senate's own constitutional duties.
"He believes in rationing of health care. Had his nomination come up during the health-care debate, can you imagine the hue and cry that would have occurred?" Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, told "Fox News Sunday." "I think that's why the president delayed making this nomination."
Mr. Berwick's nomination has the support of many in the medical community, including men who ran CMS under former President George W. Bush. But Republican senators say they're troubled by statements Dr. Berwick has made that seemed to indicate he believed the government would have to ration care.
Republicans said they believed Mr. Obama made the recess appointment so those statements didn't get a full airing, and Dr. Berwick's views would remain under wraps.
But Mr. Axelrod said Republicans have blocked so many other nominees that the White House didn't want to take a chance with Dr. Berwick, who he said needs to be on the job to oversee implementation of the new health care law.
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