Von Eschenbach nomination still on hold despite Senate committee approval

Andrew von Eschenbach still faces hurdles in becoming permanent FDA commissioner, despite winning approval of his nomination from a Senate committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last Wednesday approved acting commissioner von Eschenbach to stay on a permanent basis by a voice vote. However a full Senate confirmation on the vote has been placed on hold by vows from two Republican senators to block his nomination. Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, said the Bush administration must legalize imports of some prescription drugs before he would allow the nomination to proceed. And Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said he would block von Eschenbach's nomination, unless the FDA takes steps to remove the abortion drug RU-486 from the market. Senate procedure allows any senator to place a “hold” on a presidential nomination. Since so little time is left before Congress adjourns, any holds, even brief ones, could delay von Eschenbach’s nomination until next year. Von Eschenbach was selected by President Bush as acting commissioner of the FDA after the resignation of Commissioner Lester Crawford last September. Both Crawford and von Eschenbach saw their confirmations held up by Democratic protests over the FDA’s delay in a decision on the over-the-counter sale of Barr’s Plan B emergency contraceptive. The agency approved non-prescription sales of Plan B last month to those 18 and older and a hold on a Senate committee vote on von Eschenbach, put in place by Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, was lifted. Meanwhile, Republicans in the US House of Representatives agreed Thursday to prohibit customs agents from seizing limited amounts of prescription drugs that Americans buy in Canada and bring back into the US, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although the deal does allow Americans to buy cheaper prescriptions through the mail or over the Internet, it would enable an American carry up to a 90-day supply of medication into the US from Canada without being stopped by customs agents, House and Senate Republicans said. “This really breaks the dam and it shows that it’s only a matter of time before we pass a full blown reimportation bill,” Vitter said in the WSJ report. Vitter has lead the charge in the Senate to prohibit the Homeland Security Department’s “I think support for that is going to continue, and going to continue to grow, no matter what this bill does or doesn’t say,” Vitter added. While importing drugs into the US is illegal, the FDA generally has not stopped small amounts of medicine bought for personal use. Customs officials began intercepting imported prescription drugs two years ago and have seized more than 34,000 packages of drugs coming into the country over the last year.