The Senate Finance Committee approved Alex Azar as the next health and human services secretary on Wednesday, voting 15-12 to send his nomination to the Senate floor.
The vote followed party lines, with the exception of Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), who supported the nomination.
If approved by the full Senate, Azar, a former executive for the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, would succeed President Trump's first HHS secretary, Tom Price. The former congressman from Georgia resigned under pressure in September during an investigation of his use of private charter planes at taxpayer expense to attend official events.
"Mr. Azar is well-credentialed to lead such a critical department at a time America's health care system is facing difficult challenges," Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a written statement.
"He continues to demonstrate that he has what it takes to help alleviate problems caused by Obamacare, all while bolstering and improving Medicare and Medicaid."
Azar told Finance members during the Jan. 9 hearing on his nomination that prescription drug prices cost too much but that he was not in favor of broad government action to curb prices. His other priorities, he said, would be making health care more affordable, rewarding Medicare providers for promoting good health and combating the opioid epidemic.
The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), again criticized Azar Wednesday for his "documented history of raising drug prices" while he worked at Lilly. He said that Azar didn't offer "a single example" of the company lowering prices during Azar's tenure, which included five years as president of its largest affiliate, Lilly USA.
Carper explained his vote in a statement late Wednesday afternoon. "I am still evaluating Mr. Azar's nomination," he said, "and, while I am concerned about his perspective on Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and his knowledge on women's health issues, I believe he is qualified for consideration by the full Senate."
Azar served in the agency during George W. Bush's administration as both the department's general counsel and deputy secretary.
He left Lilly in early 2017 and formed a consulting firm. He told a different Senate committee in late November that he no longer owned Lilly stock.