Nomination of Vivek Hallegere Murthy to Be Medical Director in the Regular Corps of the Public Health Service, Subject to Qualifications Therefor as Provided By Law and Regulations, and to Be…by Senator Christopher Murphy
Posted on 2014-12-15
MURPHY. I thank the Senator from Connecticut for his advocacy on
this issue. I know we are approaching a vote, so I will be brief in my
comments. Not to repeat those of Senator Blumenthal, but he is exactly
right--there are absolutely no questions about the qualifications of
Dr. Vivek Murthy to do this job.
In addition to his professional background and his teaching responsibilities, he also has a very impressive history of commitment to international public health--building two international organizations, one that empowers hundreds of youth in the United States and India to educate over 45,000 students on HIV prevention and another one which works in rural health partnerships in India training young women to be health educators and counselors for thousands of patients.
That is a pretty impressive record, when you combine it with what Senator Blumenthal already laid out, for a still fairly young physician, someone who will bring an enormous amount of energy to this job at a moment we need it. Ebola is at the top of the list as to the reasons why we need a Surgeon General now, but we are in a remarkable period of contraction when it comes to health care spending increases. Health care costs grew by 3.6 percent in 2013, which is the slowest rate on record since the government started keeping track in 1960.
Frankly, a sound, good, sensible public health policy has a lot do with our [[Page S6849]] ability to continue curtailing the rate of health care spending increases. Why? Because obesity rates in this country--even if they were just trimmed by 5 percent, that could save $160 billion over the next 10 years. Smoking, which will hopefully be a centerpiece of the Surgeon General's advocacy plan, contributes about $133 billion in direct costs.
If we want to do something about the size of the health care budget in this country--which is something the Republicans and Democrats believe in--then we need a Surgeon General because that is the person who is leading our public health conversation all across the country, eminently qualified and desperately needed. I am glad we are having a vote here today.
Let me say just a few words about this controversy that has surrounded his choice. The criticism effectively amounts to comments that Dr. Murthy made saying two things, generally--one, that he thinks gun violence is a problem; two, that he generally agrees with where the President stands on this issue.
Let's take the second first. It is not surprising that the President is choosing people to be part of this administration who agree with him on a variety of issues. But, as many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have said, the Surgeon General doesn't set gun violence policy in this country, and so there shouldn't be a question as to whether he can separate his views on guns from his job, just as there is not a question as to whether Secretary Castro or Secretary Burwell can do the same. But it is also not surprising that he has those views because the President is entitled to pick people for important positions who generally think the same way he does on issues that are relevant to the job they are taking but also on issues that aren't in that particular appointees's responsibilities.
But let's take the first criticism--that he made these statements about guns being a public health problem, gun violence being an issue that we should confront. If a nominee for Federal office is unqualified simply because they have pointed out that gun violence is an issue we should work on, then this debate is so far removed from what is happening on the ground floor of this country as to possibly be irretrievable for the purposes of commonsense debate. That is what Dr. Murthy essentially said, that gun violence is a problem we should be working on. If we can't even get to point where we all agree on that general notion, separate and aside from whether you agree with what he thinks we should do about it or what somebody else thinks we should do about it, well, maybe this is more hopeless than I thought.
I am glad we are going to move forward on a vote on Dr. Murthy today. He is qualified to do this job, and he has an admirable background in public health policy, in the practice of medicine, and in the teaching of medicine. We need a Surgeon General right now, whether it is to confront Ebola or to help us continue on a path toward controlling health care costs.
Separate and aside from this nomination, let's agree to agree that Dr. Murthy is right that gun violence is a problem that this country should be addressing. No matter what your view on how we get there, that is something we should all be able to unite around.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.