Even without Democrats present, the Senate Finance Committee today advanced the nomination of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.) to serve as Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.
The move to vote on Price’s nomination with just Republicans present goes against committee rules, which calls for 13 members—including at least one Democrat—to be present for the vote. Yesterday, Democrats on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee boycotted the committee’s vote on Price’s nomination. As such, without a quorum on the Senate Finance committee, the vote was delayed. Democrats on the committee again stayed away from the hearing today, for a second straight day, but Republicans voted to suspend the rule that had required at least one Democrat to be present for business to be conducted, according to media reports.
Republican members of the committee, who were all present, approved Price 14-0, moving the vote to the full Senate. Following the vote, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) issued the following statement: “We need decisive, solution-oriented leaders in the administration, particularly at Treasury and HHS. As Congress navigates the minefields of tax reform, healthcare reform, and other vitally important matters, we need willing and competent partners to lead these crucial Executive Branch departments. I believe these two nominees can and will provide the necessary leadership that will allow us to be successful in these many endeavors, and I look forward to their nominations being considered by the full Senate.” (Just like they did with Price, Republican Senate Finance Committee members similarly moved forward the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department, with the same 14-0 approval, also without Democratic presence).
Rep. Tom Price, M.D.
Republicans on the committee were far from pleased with the boycott from Democrats. Hatch said yesterday, “This is one of the most alarming things I’ve seen in my 40 years in the U.S. Senate. They [Democrats] filed a list of demands just this morning. It’s not only ridiculous, it’s offensive.”
According to a Yahoo report, on Wednesday, “Committee aides said the panel had notified the Democrats a half-hour before Wednesday's proceedings. Hatch said he had obtained approval from the Senate parliamentarian for the move suspending the rule. 'We took some unprecedented action today due to some unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues,'" said Hatch.
During Price’s two nomination hearings, first in the Senate HELP Committee and then in the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Democrats on those two committees repeatedly grilled Price regarding his investments in healthcare firms and his trading in healthcare stocks during his time in Congress. Among Price’s holdings are some in Innate Immunotherapeutics, Ltd., an Australian biomedical company in which another lawmaker, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is a major shareholder.
According to his financial disclosure statements, on Aug. 31 Price bought between $50,001 and $100,000 worth of stock the firm, as noted in an article in the online publication STAT. In Price’s first Senate hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) strongly challenged Price’s explanations of how he came to invest in Innate Immunotherapeutics.
As reported by Healthcare Informatics at the time of the first hearing, “Indeed, throughout the hearing, Price was pressed by Democratic senators about the Innate Immunotherapeutics investment as well his purchase of shares in medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet last year. A CNN report noted that “Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, and “less than a week after the transaction,” Price introduced legislation “that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.”
And, during the Senate Finance committee hearing last week, Price’s second Congressional hearing in as many weeks, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) further questioned Price about healthcare stocks and said he saw a conflict while also contending that Price understated the value of his investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics. “It is hard to see this as anything but a conflict of interest and an abuse of position,” Wyden said.
Wyden tweeted this morning that Democrats want answers to Price’s stock trades that have been called into question.
Today, for the 1st time in history, Senate Finance Cmte broke the rules to push through, on a partisan basis, 2 nominees who misled the Cmte
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 1, 2017
Price's stock trades & the Qs we STILL don't have answers to undermine the belief he can work on behalf of the public interest & not his own
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 1, 2017
The Wall Street Journal published a report this week contending that Congressman Tom Price had received a privileged offer to purchase biomedical stock at a discount, even though he told Congress that was not the case.
To this end, Wyden also tweeted out a letter that Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee wrote to Chairman Hatch, which demanded responses regarding “Price’s inaccurate and misleading questions about privileged and discounted access to stocks and the implications of his taking advantage of that privilege.”
Price responded during the Senate Finance hearing, “Everything I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent, and the reason you know about these things is because we made that information available in real time as required by the House ethics committee."