Harkin places hold on top healthcare nominee

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has placed a hold on one of President Obama's top healthcare nominees.

Marilyn Tavenner had previously seemed poised for an easy, bipartisan confirmation as the administrator of the federal Medicare and Medicaid agency.

But Harkin placed a hold on Tavenner's nomination Wednesday. Harkin's office noted his frustration at the way the Obama administration plans to spend a $15 billion fund for prevention and public health programs.

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The prevention fund was one of Harkin's top priorities in the healthcare law, and he criticized the administration Wednesday for "raiding" the fund to cover the cost of implementing other parts of the health law.

“Robbing prevention when we know these efforts can improve people’s health and lower healthcare costs goes against the very mission of healthcare reform," Harkin said during a hearing Wednesday.

Harkin's hold is the first real obstacle facing Tavenner's nomination. She breezed through the Senate Finance Committee's confirmation vote after receiving strong endorsements from conservatives — including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Obama nominated Tavenner to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs and is also charged with implementing most of President Obama's healthcare law. 

Tavenner is leading CMS now on an acting basis. The agency hasn't had a permanent, Senate-confirmed administrator in seven years.