Wounded Price heads toward confirmation

Wounded Price heads toward confirmation
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) appears on track to be confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services despite a bruising confirmation process that has put his ethics under the microscope.

Democrats assailed Price on Tuesday for his trading of medical stocks as a member of Congress, putting him on the defensive, while accusing him of seeking to end Medicare and Medicaid.

Not a single Democrat has said they will vote for Price, raising the possibility that he could be the first member of President Trump's Cabinet to be approved on a strict party-line vote. 

But Republicans praised Price, a former doctor, for having the “experience and qualifications” they say is necessary to lead healthcare through a new era under the Trump administration. 

Senate Finance Committee Chaiman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah) on Tuesday accused Democrats of engaging in “partisan rancor” against Trump’s nominees.

“Unfortunately, in the current political environment, qualifications, experience and endorsements from experts and key stakeholders don’t seem to matter to some of our colleagues,” Hatch said. “At least, that appears to be the case, as none of those who say they oppose Dr. Price’s nomination seem to be talking about whether he is qualified.”

“Instead, we’ve heard grossly exaggerated and distorted attacks on his views and his ethics,” he added.

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Democrats have latched onto a series of stock trades by Price to raise questions about conflicts of interest. They have called for the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether the Republican violated insider-trading laws.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Microsoft to provide free updates for voting systems running Windows 7 through 2020 Interior watchdog investigating political appointees' review of FOIA requests MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, pointed to comments to The Washington Post by former President George W. Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter.

“George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer was in the paper this morning talking about your stock trades and said, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this before, and I’ve been practicing and teaching about securities law for 30 years,’ ” Wyden said. “So I think there are very troubling questions that remain, Mr. Chairman, with respect to this.” 

Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinFederal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall The Trump downturn: Trouble ahead for the US economy MORE (D-Wis.) announced Tuesday she would oppose Price’s nomination because he wants to “end Medicare as we know it” and has “serious questions” about “illegal insider trading.” 

Most Democrats have not yet said definitively that they will vote against Price, but many have denounced him in sharp terms over ethics and his views on ObamaCare, Medicare and Medicaid. 

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Ind.), a Democrat facing a tough reelection race in 2018, came out against Price’s nomination last year, even before confirmation hearings were held. 

Another Democrat up for reelection next year, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinO'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures MORE (W.Va.), last week said he was “concerned” about Price, though he hasn’t announced a final decision on whether he will vote for him. Manchin has backed some of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees. 

Eight of the 11 Democrats on the Senate Health Committee on Monday signed a letter calling on the SEC to investigate Price’s stock trades. 

“The American people deserve a Secretary of Health and Human Services who works for their interests, not his own,” they wrote.

Particular attention has fallen on Price’s purchase of stock in a biotech company called Innate Immunotherapeutics through a private offering at a discounted rate not available to the public.

Price has said he discussed the stock with Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a member of the company’s board. Democrats say Price could have violated the STOCK Act, which bans trading on congressional knowledge. 

The stock trading questions go beyond one instance. The Wall Street Journal reported that Price introduced legislation to extend a tax deduction for companies with facilities in Puerto Rico three months after investing in four companies with manufacturing plants there. 

Price has denied wrongdoing, simply stating “no” when asked by Wyden on Tuesday whether he had shown bad judgment. 

"The reality is that everything I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent," Price said.

Democrats were also frustrated by Price’s answers as they sought more information about what healthcare would look like under the Trump administration.

He dodged questions about Trump’s recent executive order regarding ObamaCare, what would happen to those already signed up for coverage under the healthcare law and what a replacement plan would look like. 

Price repeatedly stated that he wanted everyone to have “access to the highest quality care possible” when Democrats tried to pin him down on keeping various protections in ObamaCare.

But Price stayed away from any details of what a Republican healthcare plan would look like.

Democrats weren’t satisfied with Price’s response to their questions about Medicaid and Medicare. Price has previously called for moving Medicare toward a system of private plans and limiting federal funds to Medicaid through block grants.

Price also seemed to cast doubt on how far along Trump really is in crafting an ObamaCare replacement and whether he has had a role in it.   

Trump has said he is working with Price on a replacement plan to be revealed after his Senate confirmation.

“Is that true?” Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Senate Democrats want answers on 'dangerous' Amazon delivery system MORE (D-Ohio) asked.

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price said, to laughter in the hearing room. “I’ve had conversations with the president about healthcare, yes." 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) asked Price about ensuring that people on ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, including in Nevada, did not lose coverage. Heller is up for reelection in 2018, and Democrats believe his seat could be winnable for them.

Price provided few details regarding Medicaid, but said people who received coverage through states’ expansion should “either retain that coverage or in some way have coverage through a different vehicle.”

While Trump vowed not to touch Medicare during his presidential campaign, Price said the program should be reformed because it is going bankrupt. 

"We will not be able to provide the services to Medicare patients ... if nothing is done," Price said.

While Democrats frequently denounced Price’s responses as inadequate, Republicans defended him. 

“I don’t think you’ve ducked any questions,” Hatch said.

“You answered them forthrightly. It might not have pleased the individual senators, but you did.”