Becerra’s HHS secretary bid moves forward on tie committee vote

Dive Brief:

  • The Senate Finance Committee voted along party lines Wednesday morning to send California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination as HHS secretary to the Senate for a full vote.
  • After a 14-14 tie vote, the nomination will move forward but now requires debate and two floor votes. All Republicans on the committee voted against the nominee, citing his lack of healthcare-specific experience and support for abortion rights.
  • The date for a full vote is not yet set, but Becerra is still likely to be confirmed. It’s almost certain to be a close vote, however, given his complete lack of support from GOP members Wednesday. He is the only one of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees so far to receive no affirmative Republican votes.

Dive Insight:

In his Senate confirmation hearings, Becerra stuck by his history fighting lack of competition in provider settings, including a $575 million settlement with Sutter Health that stipulated some changes to its pricing practices.

He shied away, however, from his previous endorsements of a single-payer healthcare system. He said he would serve at the pleasure of the president, and Biden is in favor of building on the Affordable Care Act rather than pushing for something more progressive like a “Medicare for All” program.

Becerra is certainly on board with improving the ACA. As California AG he fought to keep the law on the books when a coalition of red states challenged the landmark law’s constitutionality after the GOP-controlled Congress zeroed out the individual mandate penalty.

He also led the group of blue states standing up to defend the law in court when the Trump administration declined to do so. That case is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Few senators spoke prior to the vote Wednesday, but Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., repeated his arguments from the nomination hearings that Becerra does not have the necessary experience to run HHS. Cassidy said Becerra is “a very good attorney general” but does not have experience administering health programs and “HHS secretary should not be a learn-on-the job position.”

Becerra’s first and most urgent task will be the beleaguered but improving rollout of coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. He spoke at his Senate hearing about improving education about the vaccines and working with others in the Biden administration to make distribution more swift and equitable.

The former House lawmaker is supported by major provider groups, including the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association. After the confirmation hearings last week, Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn tweeted last week that it was “time for a swift confirmation” of the nominee.

Posted in Law