Medicare Nominee Balks at Drug Issue

March 11, 2004

Medicare Nominee Balks at Drug Issue

Mark McClellan, President Bush's choice to run Medicare, said Monday that he would not answer senators' questions about his opposition to importing prescription drugs from Canada before he takes over the government health program.

Republican leaders in the Senate want to vote to confirm McClellan, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, by the end of the week, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tries to put in place the Medicare overhaul Bush signed last year.

However, McClellan's rejection of the request from Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrats Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan sets up the prospect that they will use Senate procedures to drag out the confirmation.

McClellan, at a hearing on his nomination before the Senate Finance Committee, said he would answer the senators' questions "as soon as this confirmation process is concluded."

The senators want him to appear before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which McCain leads and where he could expect more aggressive questioning than he received Monday.

Told of McClellan's comments, Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt said: "That's an absurd response that borders on the arrogant. He doesn't get to choose which senators can ask him questions."

As FDA commissioner, McClellan has been the Bush administration's leading voice in opposition to allowing prescription drugs into this country from Canada, where they often are cheaper. McClellan, other government officials and pharmaceutical companies have raised questions about safety.

Drug importation has widespread support in Congress and across the country as a result of several years of steep price increases.