- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The head of the Republican Party has joined a growing chorus of conservatives who are speaking out against President Obama’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele last week called on the president to withdraw the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius unless she answers more questions about her stance on abortion and her ties to Kansas abortion doctor George R. Tiller.

“Significant questions remain about Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ evolving relationship with a late-term abortion doctor, as well as about her position on the practice of late-term abortions,” Mr. Steele said in a statement. “If Governor Sebelius and the Obama administration are unwilling to answer these questions, President Obama should withdraw her nomination.”

Mr. Steele’s statement came as Republicans blocked immediate action on Mrs. Sibelius’ confirmation in the Senate, likely pushing a final vote to later this week at the earliest. Supporters had hoped for faster action, but Democrats say they remain confident they have enough votes to get Mrs. Sebelius confirmed.

Anti-abortion advocates and congressional Republicans have complained about inaccuracies in Mrs. Sebelius’ response to the Senate Finance Committee about how much campaign money she received from Dr. Tiller, who is under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts regarding late-term abortion procedures.

Senators vow speedy work on health reform

The two Senate Democrats chiefly responsible for devising a plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system told President Obama last week they are committed to drafting legislation by early June.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said in a joint letter to the president dated April 20 that it is imperative to “act swiftly, because the cost of inaction is too high for individuals, families, businesses, state and federal governments.”

The senators said they expect almost identical legislation to emerge from the two committees, which share jurisdiction over the issue.

“We have jointly laid out an aggressive schedule to accomplish our goal,” the letter states. “Our intention is for that legislation to be very similar, and to reflect a shared approach to reform so that the measures that our two committees report can be quickly merged into a single bill for consideration on the Senate floor.”

Sens. Baucus and Kennedy, who for months have been meeting to lay the groundwork for a massive health care reform bill, said Congress has a “moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care.”

Bill would beef up FDA

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Thursday would increase Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of both foreign-made and domestic prescription drugs.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, also would beef up the agency’s scrutiny of new medical devices before they hit the market.

“An increasing number of drugs and ingredients for pharmaceuticals are being manufactured in other countries, yet studies show the FDA doesn’t know how many foreign plants are subject to inspection, and the FDA conducts relatively few foreign inspections each year,” said Mr. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

The Drug and Device Accountability Act would augment the FDA’s resources through the collection of inspection fees. The bill also would expand the FDA’s authority, including new subpoena powers, for ensuring the safety of domestic and foreign drugs and medical devices.

The measure would allow the FDA to detain a drug or device if inspectors have reason to believe the product is adulterated or misbranded. The proposal is similar to legislation introduced last year by the two senators.

OSHA expansion proposed

Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee introduced legislation Thursday designed to give federal health and safety agencies more oversight to crack down on employers who expose workers to preventable hazards.

The Protecting America’s Workers Act, sponsored by Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey, California Democrat, would update the act governing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), charged with overseeing the health and safety of American workers.

“It has been more than 30 years since the passage of the OSH Act, and it is badly in need of reform,” Ms. Woolsey said. “While thousands of workers have been saved as a result of [the law], 16 workers are killed and 11,200 workers are injured or made ill each and every day.”

Ms. Woolsey said the legislation would expand OSHA coverage to millions of workers who currently are unprotected or inadequately protected by the agency, increase civil and criminal penalties for those who violate the law and shield those who blow the whistle on unsafe employer practices.

• Sean Lengell covers health care policy and can be reached at [email protected]

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