Michael Leavitt, President Bush's nominee for secretary of health and human services, said the position should not include the power to negotiate with drug makers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries – contradicting the views of current secretary Tommy Thompson, who said last month he wished Congress had given him that power.
Leavitt made the remarks during a Senate committee reviewing his nomination on Tuesday.
Leavitt argued that a healthy, competitive market was a better way to hold down drug prices, according to a New York Times report.
Leavitt said he planned to work with Congress to improve federal monitoring of prescription drugs after they were on the market.
Lawmakers have been seeking new ways to guarantee drug safety since September, when Merck announced that it would stop selling Vioxx because of studies indicating that it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes in some patients.
Leavitt also said he would try to restore the reputations of the FDA and the National Institutes of Health.
Like a marketing manager, he said, "I will be a guardian of the integrity of those brands."