Time to Confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy

By:  Senator Chris Murphy
Huffington Post Blog

Fear sells.

Throughout the fall, companies marketed "Ebola suits" and are having trouble keeping them in stock. Or you could go the do-it-yourself route, like the woman waiting to board a flight at Dulles airport with a homemade full-body hazmat suit. Meanwhile, fringe elements warn people to take their kids out of school, and avoid public transit, or flu vaccines, or anyone who has recently been to the continent of Africa.

Most of us recognize this as an overreaction, even as we understand the legitimate concerns that drive it. It doesn't matter that most Americans will never travel to West Africa, or even know someone who does -- the anxiety over the disease is palpable. In fact, a recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health found that nearly 40 percent of people surveyed believed that they or someone in their immediate family may contract Ebola. Ebola is a serious epidemic that is ravaging countries in West Africa -- but the fact is, in the United States, the fear spread much, much faster than the virus.

Ironically, fringe elements are also currently blocking the very voices that could help us confront that fear. In the midst of public health scares, we need someone to communicate sound health advice to the American public, unaffected by political spin or commercial motive. But unfortunately, the nominee to be the nation's doctor -- Dr. Vivek Murthy, who President Obama nominated to be Surgeon General in November 2013 -- has been hung up in Senate gridlock for a full year. The most notable opposition he has faced from conservative activists is due to a couple of common-sense statements he made about gun violence well before being considered for this position, and his role as an active proponent of the new health care law. Now, it should be no surprise that President Obama, a supporter of increased background checks and the Affordable Care Act, would want people in key administration positions that share his views. But Dr. Murthy has, in fact, gone out of his way to make it clear that in his role as Surgeon General he will focus solely on public health issues -- not guns or health insurance policy.

But now, as the world deals with the Ebola epidemic, this criticism seems even more dangerous. Previous Surgeons General have helped the nation confront public health crises like SARS, bird flu, smoking and obesity, providing commonsense, reliable information to the American public. If we expect our nation to be prepared for the potential outbreak of a deadly disease like Ebola, we need a Surgeon General on the job. It's the Surgeon General who can make sure that science and established facts dictate our response to Ebola -- or the next disease to threaten America -- rather than politics or innuendo.

And the time to confirm Dr. Murthy is right now. He has been awaiting confirmation for over a year. No one could ever claim Democrats were rushing his confirmation if we were to vote on Dr. Murthy during the lame duck session. Every day we are without a Surgeon General, our nation's public health preparedness is weaker.

The Ebola crisis is serious, and it demands a whole-of-government response. Unfortunately, one of the main players has been muted because of objections related to politics, not policy. As we begin the final months of the 113th Congress, I urge the Senate to confirm Dr. Murthy as quickly as possible. Even if it means reduced sales of Ebola suits.