February 10, 2017
The Senate confirmed Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services during a 2 a.m. vote Friday.
No Democrat senator supported Price in the 52-47 vote. He overcame an initial procedural hurdle on Wednesday evening along party lines.
With the GOP’s 52-seat hold on the Senate and only a simple majority required, Democrats don’t have the manpower to block any nominees on their own.
But they signaled early on that Price would be a top target and spent hours on the Senate floor ahead of the vote protesting his confirmation because of his support for nixing the Affordable Care Act and overhauling Medicare.
“Make no mistake: In the dark hours of the early morning, with the confirmation of Secretary Price, the Republicans launch the first assault in the war on seniors,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Democrats argue Price’s positions are out of line with campaign-trail Trump, who signaled during the race that he wouldn’t cut entitlement programs.
Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) called Price — who has previously backed privatizing Medicare — the “exact opposite” of what Trump campaigned on.
“My opposition to Congressman Price has less to do with his well-known extreme right-wing economic views than it has to do with the hypocrisy and dishonesty of President Trump,” Sanders said.
Price, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee when nominated, said late last year that Republicans would move to overhaul Medicare within six to eight months of Trump’s administration.
He also voiced support in 2015 for a proposal to reduce Medicare costs by delivering benefits through a voucher program.
Democrats are all but guaranteed to use the vote on Price, and his position on Medicare, to target GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — two Republican senators up for reelection in 2018.
Price faced a rocky confirmation battle, also coming under fire for a growing number of reports about his stock trading as a member of Congress.
CNN and Time reported last month that he had invested in health-related companies shortly before introducing or supporting legislation that benefited them. The GOP lawmaker denied wrongdoing, adding that he made the investments through a broker.
But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — in her first floor speech since she was temporarily banned on Tuesday night — said Price should be disqualified for “basic ethics.”
“He should have withdrawn his nomination weeks ago, and if he didn’t go voluntarily, the president and his friends in Congress should have quietly but forcefully pushed him out,” she said.
But Republicans never publicly signaled that they were wavering on Price. They believe getting him confirmed is key to syncing up with the White House on the plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Trump and congressional Republicans — as well as House and Senate lawmakers — have at times struggled to get on the same page about a time line for repealing ObamaCare or how to replace it.
They included a Jan. 27 date for repeal proposals in a budget bill passed earlier this year, but lawmakers acknowledged at the time that they wouldn’t meet the deadline.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday that he hopes confirming Price will speed up the process.
“After seven years we’ve got all kinds of great ideas, but we have to come together behind one,” he told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Price separately as the “right man” for to lead the department.
“Price knows more about health care policy than just about anyone. He doesn’t just understand health care policy as a policy maker … he also understands it as a practicing physician,” he said. “He gets the real-world impact.”