McClellan, a 40-year-old physician and economist, will oversee implementation of the $530 billion Medicare law passed in 2003 that provides some prescription drug coverage for seniors.
“Dr. McClellan is the right person. … He is an extremely bright and capable public servant,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in a statement.
The confirmation followed McClellan’s appearance before a Senate committee Thursday, where he explained his position on drug importation. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., had previously placed a hold the nomination, insisting that McClellan testify before the commerce committee.
Although Dorgan was not fully satisfied with the FDA head’s testimony, he agreed to let the vote go forward after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., convinced him that he had enough votes for approval.
Dorgan said Frist, also a physician, had agreed to begin a process that might lead to the legalization of importing drugs. In an interview with the Associated Press, Frist said he, Dorgan and other senators had agreed to create proposals for safe drug importation, but had not specified a timeline for that work.
“We’re trying to move the ball forward here, to make progress” toward the use of imported drugs, Dorgan told the Associated Press.
McClellan has argued against allowing the importation of drugs because the United States could not guarantee the safety of drugs produced for use in other countries.
McClellan served on the Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 until he was tapped to head the FDA in 2002. He was a deputy assistant treasury secretary during the Clinton administration. His brother, Scott, is President Bush’s press secretary.
FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford is slated to become acting commissioner after McClellan’s move.