President Bush’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration is to appear before a Senate committee next week, but lawmakers are unlikely to vote whether to confirm him.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., were placing a hold on Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach’s nomination until the FDA decided whether to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B pills. The emergency contraceptive is now sold only by prescription.

“We’re still in the exact same place, with all the issues,” said Sarah Gegenheimer, a Clinton spokeswoman.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday. It will give von Eschenbach 60 to 90 minutes to present his vision for the regulatory agency, as well as answer questions, said Craig Orfield, a spokesman for the panel’s chairman, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

“It is unlikely they will vote on his nomination but they will allow him to come before the committee and essentially make his case as head of the FDA,” Orfield said.

Von Eschenbach has been acting FDA commissioner since September 2005. In March, Bush nominated the urology surgeon to lead the regulatory agency on a full-time basis.

If confirmed, von Eschenbach would be the third FDA commissioner under Bush.

“The agency needs permanent leadership to spur more innovation, improve drug safety and help lifesaving drugs reach patients faster,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a statement.

Von Eschenbach “looks forward to sharing a vision and plan for the FDA of the 21st century,” agency spokeswoman Susan Bro said.


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