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Menino sends blunt letter on "fiscal cliff" to Obama and House speaker

Mayor Thomas Menino's office has fired off a chatty letter to President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, chock full of shots at the capitol’s culture and glimpses of life inside Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The blunt letter, signed by Menino, urges Obama and Boehner to speak plainly about "fiscal cliff" negotiations and asks them not to cut health research funding, pointing to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Bay State receives from the federal government.

Washington Democrats and Republicans are negotiating about how to solve the problem of the “fiscal cliff.” Massive spending cuts and tax increases in the area of $500 billion are set to go into effect at the start of 2013 if lawmakers don’t reach an agreement this month.

In the unusually informal letter, dated Dec. 1, Menino talks about the potential cuts through the lens of a big city mayor who has suffered “a lot of pain” over the last month. “So, yes, my perspective on the big budget debate happening in Washington is unique,” Menino, a Democrat, wrote. “Politicians are not used to taking orders. But here, doctors tell me what to do. (Actually, it’s the amazing nurses.) In Washington, ‘winning the 24-hour news cycle’ is victory. You know what victory is for patients down the hall from me? Walking.”

Menino, who spent most of November at Brigham and Women’s Hospital before last week’s transfer to Spaulding, also asked the pair to “tell the truth” on taxes. “Brian, my nurse, doesn’t come to my room in the morning to say, ‘Mayor, if you just sit here, unburdened by taxing exercises, free from our rehab rules and regulations, you will get stronger,’” Menino wrote. “He tells it like it is. You can, too.”

Menino also took a shot at the “grand bargain” that Obama and Boehner reportedly desire. “Outside of Washington, we don’t spend all day on your potential ‘Grand Bargain,’” Menino wrote. “Here, the term sounds like the frozen smoothie Brian offers me in exchange for another go at the stair machine. But if it means you’ll come together for the American people, do that. We’ve had enough Democrat and Republican speak for a while.”

Menino’s staff posted the letter on Twitter on Monday, shortly after President Obama took to social networking site himself to answer questions about “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Menino's office has not yet received a response.

The text of the letter is available below:

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Speaker John Boehner
House of Representatives
1011 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

Dear President Obama and Speaker Boehner,

I know a little bit about the importance of funding for health research, training, and care. Boston is home to the #1 medical school in the country and the #1 hospital in the country. Researchers in Boston earn more NIH support than in any other city. Health care companies and institutions employ more people than any other sector.

Oh, and there’s this: I just spent a month in one of our world-class health care institutions and am writing you from another.

So, yes, my perspective on the big budget debate happening in Washington is unique. Politicians are not used to taking orders. But here, doctors tell me what to do. (Actually, it’s the amazing nurses.) In Washington, “winning the 24-hour news cycle” is victory. You know what victory is for patients down the hall from me? Walking.

I hope you’ll understand that if my tone is unusually blunt (even for me), it is because one sees things differently here. I have to ask as you work to avoid the “fiscal cliff”: Talk differently to the American people.

We don’t seek “austerity”. Austerity describes hospital food and institutional walls. Show us opportunity. Sell us on progress.

Tell us the truth, especially on taxes. Brian, my nurse, doesn’t come to my room in the morning to say, “Mayor, if you just sit here, unburdened by taxing exercises, free from our rehab rules and regulations, you will get stronger.” He tells it like it is. You can, too.

And tell those who can do more, to do more. In a hospital, it gets real clear real fast about what real fortune is. We need more “there but for the grace of God go I” and less, dare I say, “I built that.”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve endured a lot of pain over the last month. But except for my family and the support of the great people of Boston, you know what’s gotten me through? The knowledge that literally nowhere else in the world is there a better place to get healthy than Boston. They don’t make pain medicine for “If I had only been born somewhere else.”

Other people come here to get well. It would make a good national motto. And it’s a good reminder now. We can’t slash funding for health research. Not $200 to $300 million a year in Massachusetts. Not $2.5 billion annually at the NIH.

Outside of Washington, we don’t spend all day on your potential “Grand Bargain.” Here, the term sounds like the frozen smoothie Brian offers me in exchange for another go at the stair machine. But if it means you’ll come together for the American people, do that. We’ve had enough Democrat and Republican speak for a while.

The fiscal cliff is bad for our country, and so is any remedy that guts funding for discovery, for health care training, and for healing. I write to urge you and all of your counterparts to give it to us straight on that fact, even from here. Especially from here.

Sincerely,

Thomas M. Menino
Mayor, City of Boston