The Senate Finance Committee said it has postponed a confirmation hearing for a number of executive branch positionsincluding that of Kerry Weems, tapped by the White House to head the CMSin a move that some political observers called retribution for the administrations veto threat over reauthorization of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program.
Officially, a committee spokeswoman said the hearing was delayed to make time for final revisions of the SCHIP bill, which were postponed from last night. Another source said the revisions should be done in the next day or so.
But outside policy sources said the shuffling of times works as a de facto hold on Weems and Tevi Troy, nominated by President Bush for the deputy secretary spot at HHS, and smacks of political gamesmanship. The Senate is expected to adjourn Aug. 4 for a nearly monthlong recess.
Last week, CMS acting Administrator Leslie Norwalk told staff in an e-mail that her last day at the agency would be July 20.
In an exchange of sharply worded letters Tuesday, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt that the committee wont allow its SCHIP bill to carry the administrations healthcare platform of tax breaks and other consumer-centric provisions.
The administration appears to be holding childrens health insurance hostage to Congress adoption of the administrations larger health insurance tax and other health reform proposals, Baucus wrote. Regardless of the merits of the administrations tax proposal, it has proved far too controversial a matter for the Congress to adopt this year.
Baucus letter was in response to one sent earlier to committee leaders by Leavitt, which detailed the administrations resistance to a planned Senate bill and registered its strong opposition to a planned 61 cent increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes to offset the programs cost.
If this legislation were presented to the president as it is currently proposed, the president would veto it, Leavitt wrote. -- by Matthew DoBias