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  • Washington Highlights

    On the Hill: Senate Acts on HHS, Education, OMB, and VA Nominees

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    Department of Health and Human Services

    A week after a contentious Jan. 24 confirmation hearing [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 27], the Senate Finance Committee advanced Dr. Price’s nomination under suspension of the rules. The procedural maneuver became necessary when Finance Committee Democrats left the previously scheduled Jan. 31 committee vote after concerns were raised about Dr. Price’s testimony.

    The Senate Feb. 2 voted, 52-47, to end debate and move one step closer to a final vote on President Trump’s nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to serve as the Health and Human Services secretary. A vote on final confirmation could come as soon as the week of Feb. 6.

    Department of Education

    Through a party-line vote, the Senate HELP Committee Jan. 31 agreed to advance Education Secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, to the full Senate. Similar to the discussion during a previous HELP Committee hearing [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 19], members of the committee continued to express their concern about Mrs. DeVos’s lack of experience in public education.

    Although Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted in favor of advancing Mrs. DeVos to the full Senate, both senators gave floor speeches Feb. 1 voicing their intention to oppose Mrs. DeVos in the final vote.

    As a result, the current vote count stands at 50-50, prompting the potential participation of Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaking vote. The Senate Feb. 3 voted to limit debate on Mrs. DeVos, setting her up for a final vote on Feb. 6 or 7.

    Office of Management and Budget

    Separately, both the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) Committee and the Senate Budget Committee Feb. 2 voted to advance Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), nominee for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to the full Senate for final approval. Both votes occurred along party-lines.

    In a statement on the vote, Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) described Rep. Mulvaney as a director Congress can work with to “put America on a more responsible fiscal path.”

    Although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressed Rep. Mulvaney in a previous HSGAC hearing on spending [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 27], Sen. McCain voted to advance Rep. Mulvaney to the full Senate, saying that he will “continue to weigh all the facts” before the final vote.

    Department of Veterans Affairs

    The Senate Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee held a Feb. 1 confirmation hearing for VA Secretary nominee, David Shulkin, MD. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) described Dr. Shulkin, as someone who has “never forgotten his focus on medicine, his focus on serving others.” Noting his experience as VA undersecretary, Sen. Toomey went on to say that in addition to his experience as an administrator, his insights are “informed by his personal experience as a physician, which I think is invaluable.”

    In his testimony, Dr. Shulkin stated, “It's very important that we complete the task of getting open accessibility to our veterans to health care, but we make everybody understand we are not about privatizing health care for the veterans. We're about making health care more available to veterans through implementation of the private sector and the Veterans Administration. We don't want to privatize it, we want to empower it.” Later in the hearing, Dr. Shulkin also noted the VA’s “need to expand our graduate medical education programs in these rural areas.”