Max Baucus—fire non-starter

So what did Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) say when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked him to hold a confirmation hearing for Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of CMS?

“It's going to be difficult to proceed with the Republican opposition,” said Baucus, chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, when I asked him about the conversation.

The expected strong Republican opposition to Tavenner also has been his public explanation for his decision not to bring her confirmation up for a vote. The scenario echoed similar widespread Republican hostility to her predecessor, Dr. Donald Berwick, who stepped down in December after Baucus demurred giving him a confirmation vote.

Tavenner was widely believed to be far less controversial when she was nominated.

So why not at least hold a hearing, if not a vote? A hearing would allow Tavenner to explain her priorities and plans for running an agency that oversees hundreds of billions of dollars in annual healthcare spending and for implementing many of the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“I tend to believe if something is a non-starter then you shouldn't start it,” Baucus said, when asked about even a hearing.

Other Democrats on the committee deferred to Baucus' decision on the matter.

“I don't want to challenge the political advice of our chairman as to whether this is doable or not and I respect his judgment on this; I'm not calling for a different process,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in an interview. But “I want to see her confirmed.”

Republicans also were interestingly deferential to Baucus' decision on Tavenner.

“I think very highly of her but the chairman has decided not to go forward with that because he doesn't believe that in this conference she should be able to get through and he's probably right,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking Republican on the committee, said when I asked him about Baucus' decision.

The lack of a confirmation does not seem to be a major concern for Tavenner. She has met with Baucus irregularly to discuss issues at the CMS, according to congressional sources. However, she hasn't even discussed the possibility of a confirmation with him yet, Tavenner told me in a brief June 7 interview.

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.



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