Updated: 2:19 p.m.A GOP stall on all Health and Human Services nominees has left the department without a surgeon general during a period of a global flu pandemic, prompting the HHS secretary to call for Senate action.Regina Benjamin, the surgeon general nominee, is ready to be voted on in the Senate, and we would just strongly urge the United States Senate to act, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during an MSNBC interview Friday in which she discused the department's response to the spread of the H1N1 virus.President Barack Obama on Saturday declared the H1N1 outbreak a national emergency.We are facing a major pandemic, we have a well-qualified candidate for surgeon general, shes been through the committee process. We just need a vote in the Senate, Sebeilus said. Please give us a surgeon general.Benjamin was unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Oct. 7, but Senate Republicans are holding up all HHS nominees over a so-called gag order on insurance companies that have been critical of Democratic efforts to reform health care.Weve not received any recent calls from the administration about their nominee, a senior Republican aide said. There wont be any time agreements for confirmation of HHS nominees until their actions have been fully reviewed. At issue is an investigation of insurance companies by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the HHS, which announced the probe last month after a letter surfaced from Humana to seniors critical of the Senate Finance Committees health care bill.CMS officials charged that the letter contained misleading information, a claim Republicans have disputed.We believe this hold is irresponsible, a HELP Committee aide said. Everyone agrees Regina Benjamin is abundantly qualified and clearly needed to fill this position.Benjamin is the only HHS nominee on the executive calendar awaiting Senate confirmation.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.