The U.S. Senate Finance Committee yesterday split 14-14 along party lines on whether to favorably report California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination to serve as U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary to the full Senate.
There is a 50-50 partisan split in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris (D) holding the tie-breaking vote. Under a power sharing agreement, Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will notify the Secretary of the Senate about his committee’s tie vote on Becerra. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) can then move to discharge the nomination, followed by up to four hours of debate, followed by a full Senate vote on the motion to discharge. Despite the party line vote, Becerra is expected to be approved by the full Senate as early as next week.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who questioned Becerra about the 340B program during last week’s courtesy hearing before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, yesterday said Becerra’s unsatisfactory answers, in his estimation, demonstrated that Becerra is unfit to be confirmed.
“In HELP Committee, I asked about the 340B program, which is something we have had hearings on over the last year,” Cassidy said. “A governor would know about 340B, a pharmaceutical rep would, a healthcare provider, etcetera. And Mr. Becerra displayed no familiarity.”
Cassidy’s assessment is not shared by 340B providers, Democrats, and some Republican members. In December, Becerra helped spearhead a bipartisan letter from 29 state attorneys general to then HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting that the department take immediate action to block and sanction manufacturers who were not providing 340B pricing to contract pharmacies. They believe that Becerra has a strong grasp of 340B and point out that during last week’s hearings, the California attorney general reinforced his support of the HHS advisory opinion that states that pharmaceutical companies are breaking the law by not offering 340B discounts to contract pharmacies.
Cassidy, as he did during last week’s Finance Committee hearing, indicated that he expected that Becerra would ultimately be confirmed. “I will cooperate and work with him,” Cassidy said. “But we shouldn’t have the pretense that this person has the qualifications of someone with a different background.”