Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, avoided going into specifics on contentious issues during his first confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Biden nominated Becerra, the attorney general of California, in December. Tuesday’s hearing with the Senate Health Committee was the first of two this week. He will face questioning from members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
During Tuesday’s hearing, senators pressed Becerra on his specific plans for Medicare and Medicaid reforms, lowering drug prices, and making insurance plans under Obamacare more affordable.
As Republican senators pressed Becerra to elaborate on his priorities if he were to be confirmed as HHS secretary, the attorney general reiterated many of Biden’s campaign promises, such as building on and improving Obamacare.
“I believe President Biden made it very clear,” Becerra said. “If we work hard to build on [Obamacare], and if we continue to make improvements, we will finally get to that point where we will finally, as the leading nation in the world, be able to say that we truly do cover all of our people.”
Becerra, likewise, was vague in his answers to questions regarding the need to lower prescription drug costs and how to get it done, a goal that eluded the previous administration. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has advocated for the importation of cheaper prescription drugs with federal oversight, asked the attorney general for “a little bit more specificity as to how we take on the drug companies and lower prescription drug costs.”
“We can all agree that the price we’re paying for some of these prescription drugs is far higher than it should be,” Becerra said. “All you have to do is travel to another country, whether Canada or another country in the world, to find that we’re paying way more than some of these people in some of these countries are paying.”
Becerra also evaded a question from Republican Sen. Mike Braun, a champion for policies to limit abortions, about his record on abortion during his 25-year tenure in Congress and as California’s attorney general. Braun asked Becerra to “commit” to not using taxpayer money to fund abortion procedures, a prohibited practice under the Hyde Amendment. Becerra told Braun “that we will definitely follow the law when it comes to the use of federal resources.”
“Not really the particular answer I was looking for, but I’ll take that,” Braun said.
Becerra’s lack of experience working in the healthcare sector has been a sticking point for his confirmation process. GOP senators on the Health Committee were doubtful that Becerra had enough relevant experience to lead the department comprising agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
“I’m not sold yet,” Republican Sen. Richard Burr said. “I’m not sure you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment.”
Democrats, meanwhile, touted Becerra’s defense of Obamacare in numerous lawsuits.