Sen. Tom Harkin said he will remove his hold on President Obama’s pick to lead the nation’s Medicare agency, but the powerful Iowa Democrat said Tuesday he is still not happy with the administration’s “penny-wise, pound-foolish” tendency to raid a fund designated for preventative health programs.
Mr. Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, held up the nomination of Marilyn B. Tavenner to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) so he could highlight his opposition to plans to transfer $332 million out of the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
Ms. Tavenner had enjoyed widespread support from both parties and seemed poised to sail through the Senate.
But Mr. Harkin is a key advocate and author of the prevention fund that promotes public health initiatives and disease prevention and placed a “hold” on the nomination, temporarily stalling its progress.
Republican opponents of the president’s new health care law also have accused the Obama administration of using the pool of money as a “slush fund,” but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has argued the funds were redirected in part because Congress underfunded efforts to implement the health care law.
“And like clueless dodos,” he said, “we wonder why health care costs are skyrocketing.”
The senator, who is retiring in 2014, said he had not been consulted about transfers from the prevention fund. The transfers were particularly grating, he said, because the Obama administration dipped into the fund last year.
“The Congress and the White House should not be working as cross-purposes,” Mr. Harkin said. “We should be working together.”