President Reagan's nominee as secretary of health and human services, Margaret M. Heckler, told the Senate Finance Committee yesterday that "I am pro-life" and "very opposed to abortion" and "I can't imagine coming down on the other side."
Heckler, who served eight terms in the House before losing to a Democrat in November's election, also said that despite any personal views she would carry out President Reagan's policy of requiring parental notification when girls 17 or under apply at federally funded centers for birth control assistance. For the moment, however, that policy has been suspended because of a court injunction. She said the president "feels strongly about this issue."
These two issues provided the only spark of controversy as the committee held a routine confirmation hearing, with Heckler introduced by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.). The hearing was followed by a prediction from the chairman, Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), that Heckler, and also Reagan's nominee for undersecretary, John A. Svahn, will win committee approval next Wednesday.
Heckler was pressed strongly by Sens. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to declare that despite her views on abortion she felt it improper for Congress to try to strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over the issue so that Congress and the states could then overturn Supreme Court rulings allowing abortion.
Heckler repeatedly refused to give a direct answer to this question. But she said in a general way that, "When faced with a major question, my own strong conviction on the right to life will dominate my thinking." She finally summarized her position by saying, "I'd have to ponder this and review my constitutional history." On other issues she said:
"Workfare" for welfare clients "has yielded some very positive results" when "not dovetailed with 'make-work,' " but used for productive activities.
Availability of adequate day care is an "essential element" if welfare mothers or others with young children are to work.
To those who do not think she is a true Reaganite: "I have never, never admired a president as much as President Reagan."
Prospective payment is only a "first step" in cutting Medicare costs to save the system from bankruptcy. Dole chimed in that maybe prospective payment mechanisms--in which the government fixes fees for various hospital services in advance, instead of just paying whatever costs hospitals incur--are needed to hold down not just hospital costs, but the costs of doctor, hospice and home-health services as well.
Svahn, under severe questioning by Sen. David H. Pryor (D-Ark.), repeatedly denied that the Social Security Administration, which he heads, has tried to impose quotas, targets or goals on departmental administrative law judges to limit how many Social Security disability awards they grant.
Pryor read a memorandum, signed by one SSA official, which Pryor said clearly said that it was an SSA goal to reduce the proportion of grants made by administrative law judges on appeal from 57.3 percent in 1982 to 45.2 percent by 1984.
Svahn denied that it was a quota or directive, and Paul B. Simmons, deputy commissioner of Social Security, said later it merely represented an SSA estimate of what the rate of approvals would be if good legal procedure were followed and the administrative law judges didn't make any procedural mistakes.