It’s not just Elizabeth Warren. It’s Don Berwick, and others too

Paul Krugman has a nice op-ed today about Elizabeth Warren. Among other things, he writes:

Given Ms. Warren’s prescience and her role in shaping financial reform legislation — not to mention her effective performance running the Congressional panel exercising oversight over federal financial bailouts — it was only natural that she be appointed to get the new consumer protection agency up and running. And it’s hard to think of anyone better qualified to head the agency once it goes into action.

The fact that she’s so well qualified is, of course, the reason she’s being attacked so fiercely. Nothing could be worse, from the point of view of bankers and the politicians who serve them, than to have consumers protected by someone who knows what she’s doing and has the personal credibility to stand up to pressure.

The interesting question now is whether the Obama administration will see the war on Elizabeth Warren for what it is: a second chance to change public perceptions.

Change a few references from consumer to patient, and everything Krugman wrote about Elizabeth Warren is true of Donald Berwick, another highly-qualified official who seems unable to even receive a Senate confirmation hearing. Like Warren, he faces a partisan witch hunt. Also like Warren, he offers a nice opportunity to highlight Republicans’ unreasoning opposition to obviously sensible provisions and obviously qualified people they can identify with health reform.

Indeed the only real difference between Warren and Berwick is that the latter is the more technocratic, quintessentially nonpartisan figure. He is possibly the most qualified person in the nation to shephard implementation of the new law. His resume and views are quite similar to those of some Republican counterparts, who may someday face the same rough handling from Senate Democrats as payback for what is happening to Berwick.

Kicking such excellent people to the curb terribly damages American government. Of course, the Senate’s confirmation process is seriously broken. Yet the problem goes beyond the Senate’s ossified structures. Some of the blame must go to President Obama himself, and to Democratic Senators who fail to aggressively oppose partisan attacks on so many people.

According to news reports, Senate Finance chair Max Baucus may not even grant Berwick the courtesy of a hearing. Baucus is apparently miffed that Berwick received a recess appointment last year. Baucus shouldn’t be. Opponents of health care reform demonized Berwick immediately following the bill’s passage. Facing a virtually-inevitable filibuster while trying to implement one of the most complicated laws in American history, Obama gave Berwick a recess appointment. This wasn’t the ideal process, but it was the proper response to bluntly partisan abuses of the Senate confirmation process. Other Democrats across official Washington are sorry about Berwick’s troubles, but they speak of Berwick as a bureaucratic dead man walking. That only deepens his predicament.

We should fight for good people like Warren and Berwick. Maybe Republicans have the Senate votes to block them. We need to make Repubicans pay a price for that, however it goes.