We don't have a Surgeon General, but we have a potential flu pandemic facing us. The President nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin in early July to be the Surgeon General. The Senate HELP committee unanimously approved her earlier this month. Her nomination is being held up by Republicans over actions taken by the Adminstration to hold Humanaaccountable for sending messages to seniors scaring them about health reform.
UPDATE: Nancy Snyderman of MSNBC is doing an interview with me tomorrow (Wed) about why we don't have a Surgeon General. Hopefully, this will help get the message out.
What's wrong with this picture? There is no real substantive reason to hold up Dr. Benjamin's nomination (if there were, the Republicans on the HELP committee would have voted no). She is a selfless physician, who has devoted her life to her patients in rural Alabama. However, due to an informal Senate rule, any Senator can hold up a nomination for whatever reason. In this case, it was Senator MIke Enzi of Wyoming who put the hold on the nomination.
In a Sept. 24 letter, Enzi and seven other Republican lawmakers indicated they would block the full Senate from voting on nominees for key health posts until the dispute was settled. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services gave ground, saying those companies could furnish information on pending legislation as long as customers can opt out of receiving it.
But "many questions remain," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the letter's lead signer, said in a Monday speech.
For Enzi, the review is needed to see how the administration's new policy is being implemented, Mahaffey said Wednesday. Asked how long that review might take, he referred the question to McConnell's office, where a spokesman did not reply to e-mail and phone messages.
In the meantime, Enzi will continue to support the delay in voting on Benjamin and other candidates for health posts, Mahaffey said. Under informal Senate rules, a single lawmaker can bottle up a nomination.
There is something terribly wrong when a political minority can hold up a nomination when it has the potential to affect a nation's health. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security, are both overwhelmed with health reform and security issues in the U.S. Rachel Maddowbrought this issue up on her show on MOnday October 26, but there has been relatively little other media attention to this problem.
You may well ask what the Surgeon General does. In addition to being in charge of more than 6000 Public Health workers, the position is mainly one of leadership. The Surgeon Generalcould be providing the leadership that is needed to expedite vaccine production and help communicate to the American public about the threats of the H1N1 virus. But there is no one in that role.
We need to expose Senator Enzi and his colleagues for the game they are playing with America's health. You can contact Senator Enzi by calling one of his offices or you can also call Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. (You can't email them unless you live in their state)