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Political Notebook

Kerry comes to defense of nominee to run Medicare, Medicaid programs

Dr. Donald Berwick is a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Donald Berwick is a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.
May 14, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry rose to the defense of Harvard professor Donald Berwick yesterday, deriding Republicans who have used what Kerry called “phony assertions’’ to damage Berwick’s nomination to run the country’s Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“It’s no secret that the national Republican Party has tried to crank up the attack machine and make his nomination a distorted referendum on reform,’’ Kerry said in a statement after meeting with Berwick. “I hope everyone will instead take a deep breath and look at the facts about this public servant who is beyond debate a dedicated pediatrician and nationally recognized expert on health care quality.’’

Berwick, a professor at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, is President Obama’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administer government health care programs for the elderly as well as the poor and disabled. The agency will play a pivotal role in the new health care law, which includes cuts in Medicare funding and a historic expansion of Medicaid to extend coverage to a broader group of Americans.

As president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit, Berwick has drawn praise from health care specialists across the philosophical spectrum for his knowledge of the issue and approaches to solving the problem of increasing costs.

But some Republicans, eager to fight over the contentious health care law, plan to use his nomination hearings as a platform to challenge the law Obama signed in March.

Several senators took to the Senate floor Wednesday evening to criticize Berwick, suggesting that he endorsed “rationing’’ of health care. Berwick, as is typical for appointees, has declined to be interviewed ahead of his nomination hearings, but Kerry spoke up yesterday for the doctor.

“We need better than phony assertions that he’d ever set up death panels in Medicare, or interfere in personal health care decisions made between patients and their doctors,’’ Kerry said. “Frankly, we need a more honest debate than we had over health reform itself, which didn’t serve anyone well. It’s time to permanently retire these ridiculous accusations from politics and thoughtfully consider our nominees so that first rate experts won’t shy away from public service.’’

Kerry is a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider Berwick’s nomination. The panel, whose members are now entrenched in a financial services regulation bill, has yet to set a date for the hearings. — Susan Milligan

President asks Congress for help creating more jobs
BUFFALO — President Obama asked Congress yesterday to act quickly on a new round of jobs legislation, saying that “fancy formulas and mathematical equations’’ from economists mask the continuing pain in American households.

“It’s great that the stock market has bounced back,’’ Obama said during a three-hour stop in Western New York, a region in decline long before the economic downturn. “But if you’re still looking for a job, it’s still a recession. If you can’t pay your bills or your mortgage, it’s still a recession. No matter what the economists say, it’s not a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.’’

Citing last week’s reports showing job growth for the fourth straight month, the president contended that his steps to rescue the economy are working.

But given an unemployment rate that continues to hover near 10 percent, Obama urged Congress to act on new job creation measures that could further strengthen small businesses.

The president took a swipe at Republican lawmakers, accusing them of sitting on the sidelines as the crisis unfolded.

“If we had taken that position, just thinking about what was good for my politics, millions more Americans would have lost their jobs,’’ Obama told workers at Industrial Support, Inc., a small manufacturing company.

Obama began his White House-to-Main Street tour in December with a trip to Allentown, Pa.

He’ll travel to Youngstown, Ohio, next week. — Associated Press

House panels give OK to GE’s F-35 jet engine
WASHINGTON — General Electric Co.’s backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter received funding from two House defense panels yesterday, even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would recommend vetoing the entire defense budget if it includes money for the project.

The House Armed Services Committee’s sea power and air-land forces panels added $485 million to the fiscal 2011 defense budget to continue developing the engine built by GE and partner Rolls-Royce Group Plc.

Much of the work would be done at GE’s plant in Lynn. Members of the Bay State’s congressional delegation, led by Senator John F. Kerry and Representative John F. Tierney of Salem, have been pushing to keep the backup program fully funded.

In addition to adding hundreds of jobs, the program would lower long-term costs and enhance safety, the legislators contend. The Pentagon, however, has sought to kill the engine program for four consecutive years, saying it is redundant. — Bloomberg News