Political notebook

Obama renominates Berwick to lead Medicare services

January 27, 2011

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WASHINGTON — President Obama renominated Donald Berwick yesterday as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a pivotal position in implementing the president’s health care law.

Using a recess appointment, Obama had placed Berwick, a Harvard professor and Boston pediatrician noted for his studies on improving health care without raising costs, into his post on July 7 after the Senate would not confirm him.

Some Republicans contended Berwick’s positions could lead to care rationing; others hinted they would vote against him in protest of the president’s health care overhaul.

The use of a recess appointment allows a president to fill a position without Senate confirmation when Congress is not in session.

Because of the way he was appointed, however, Berwick’s term runs only to the end of this year, and he would need to win confirmation in order to carry out key changes to the health care system.

Since in office, Berwick has been developing a system of innovation sites across the nation to test ways to improve care and cut costs.

The sites are the first step in changing the fundamental ways the government pays physicians and hospitals.

The renomination was one of several from the president yesterday:

■ Craig Becker, to the National Labor Relations Board. His appointment was blocked by Republicans who thought his positions were overly prolabor. Obama made a recess appointment for Becker in April.

■ Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., as ambassador to Turkey. The Boston native and Malden Catholic graduate had been blocked from his position by Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who said he thought Ricciardone would not be committed to democratic reform in Turkey. Ricciardone had served as ambassador to Egypt from 2005 to 2008. Obama had installed him in Ankara with a recess appointment last month.

■ Robert Stephen Ford, as ambassador to Syria. Ford, who had served as ambassador to Algeria, had been blocked by Republicans who believed installing a full ambassador in Damascus would reward Syria, which has had ties with terrorist groups. Obama had used a recess appointment last month to install Ford. — GLOBE STAFF

GOP lawmakers question proposed military cuts
WASHINGTON — Top Pentagon officials yesterday defended Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s proposed multibillion-dollar cuts in military spending in the face of tough questions from Republicans about slashing too deep and jeopardizing US forces.

At the start of the arduous budget process, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the new GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee that Gates’s call for cuts of $78 billion “strikes the right balance for these difficult times.’’ The military budget would still be $553 billion in the next fiscal year, close to double the 2001 total, and the amount does not include funds for the war in Afghanistan and reduced operations in Iraq. The formal proposal will be submitted to Congress the week of Feb. 14, when President Obama offers his budget.

With the latest projection of a record $1.5 trillion deficit this year, Republicans and Democrats are clamoring for significant spending cuts, with some arguing that the military’s budget should be part of any calculation. Yet some lawmakers fear deep cuts will undermine the military in a time of war and question elimination of weapons that often mean jobs back home.

“I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform,’’ said Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California and the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Specifically, several committee members expressed concern about Gates’s plan to cancel the $12 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that would transport Marines from ship to shore. Gates said that money will be used to buy additional ships, F-18 jets, and new electronic jammers.

General Joseph Dunford, assistant Marine commandant, told the committee the cost of the vehicle had tripled, from $5 million each in 1995 to $17 million now.

Gates’s proposal would also reduce the number of soldiers in the Army by 27,000 and trim the Marines by 20,000, saving up to $6 billion. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Romney criticizes Obama, cites lack of leadership
WASHINGTON — Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney yesterday criticized President Obama’s State of the Union address, saying he lacked leadership and a clear direction to steer the country out of the economic downturn.

“President Obama knows where he wants to go, but he has no idea how to get there,’’ Romney wrote in a blog on his website. “The on-the-job economic education of the president has cost American families almost a trillion dollars in failed stimulus schemes and, unfortunately, he’s still failing the course.’’

Romney also took a jab at Obama’s proposal to build rail projects as a way to put people to work, reduce dependency on foreign oil, and repair infrastructure. “You can’t build a high-speed rail system fast enough to outrun the president’s misguided regulations,’’ Romney wrote.

He has been weighing a second run for the GOP presidential nomination. — MATT VISER top stories on Twitter

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