Robert Califf, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, was a cardiologist and researcher at Duke University. He is also President Obama’s choice to head the FDA, the federal agency that regulates the industries that produce medicine, food, tobacco, cosmetics and other products.

Califf’s nomination was approved with a unanimous voice vote Jan. 12 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, but it is facing rough sledding with other senators.

Several have promised to stall the appointment. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wants assurances from the FDA that genetically modified salmon will be labeled as such. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., is concerned the nominee won’t fight Big Pharma on drug prices. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., says the FDA must take tougher action against the abuse of opioid painkillers.

Senators are entitled to object to White House nominees, but Murkowski, Sanders and Markey have gone further and placed holds on the appointment, which allows a single lawmaker to block a measure from receiving a floor vote. The maneuver is often used as a partisan weapon, in which a senator can hold hostage the appointment by a president from the other party.

The holds on this nomination aren’t partisan payback, but they’re just as insidious because they deny the full Senate a chance to vote.

There may be sound reasons to reject Califf’s promotion to the top FDA job. Some senators, for instance, consider him too cozy with the drug industry since he received $29,000 in fees, travel, meals and other payments from drugmakers while at Duke.

That’s all the more reason for a floor vote, up or down – not a hold that keeps the Senate from doing the people’s business.


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