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Senate Democrats Boycott Committee Vote on HHS Secretary Nomination

January 31, 2017
by Heather Landi
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While Rep. Tom Price's confirmation as the next U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary is expected to sail through the Senate with full support from Republicans, the process hit a snag today when Senate Democrats on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee boycotted the Committee’s vote this morning on Rep. Price’s nomination.

Price, a Georgia Congressman, was tapped by President Donald Trump to lead HHS. Without a quorum on the Senate Finance committee, the vote was delayed and Price’s nomination did not move forward. During the same committee hearing, Senators also were scheduled to vote on the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department.

In a statement, Senator Sherrod Brown said he and fellow Democrats are “demanding the nominees provide responses to requests on their business dealings that have remained unanswered and come back before the committee and answer questions about false testimony given to the committee.”

As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, during Price’s two nomination hearings in the Senate HELP Committee and then in the Senate Finaice Committee, Democratic Senators on those two committees grilled Rep. Price regarding his investments in healthcare firms and his trading in health care 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.

During the Senate Finance committee hearing last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) specifically questioned Price about health care 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.

“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,” Price responded during that hearing.

The Wall Street Journal published a report yesterday 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.

“If Congressman Price is willing to mislead Congress during his own confirmation hearing, there’s no guessing what else he’d be willing to mislead the public about when it comes to their health insurance and earned Medicare benefits,” Brown said in a statement today.

During the short committee hearing this morning, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said of the boycott, “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.

"I’m really disappointed that they are boycotting this consideration of Stephen Mnuchin to the Secretary of the Treasury and Rep Price, one of the members of our Congress, to HHS Secretary," he said.

He continued, “If they can’t support these two, then they can vote against them…. I’m hopeful that when we schedule this again they will be here. We’re going to do this again throughout the day and see if they will come and do the job that they have been elected and sworn to do. I’m very disappointed in this type of crap, my gosh, there’s no excuse for it.”

Hatch later added, “I think some of this is because they don’t like the President.” Hatch said the vote would be reschedule as soon as possible.

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