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Price Vote for HHS Nomination Delayed by Democrats' Boycott

Mary Caffrey
Democrats had asked for a delay in the vote due to concerns about Price's ethics. In boycotting the Senate Finance meeting, however, they alienated Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has supported keeping the filibuster to protect minority party rights. Democrats accused Price and Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin of lying to committee members at earlier appearances.
Updated: Repubilcans suspend rules to clear Price.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-0 to clear US Rep. Tom Price’s nomination to be the next HHS Secretary.

According to Reuters, Democrats tried for a second day to block the vote, but Republicans suspended the rules following Democrats’ boycott of Tuesday’s scheduled vote. 

Republicans had chastised the panel’s Democrats for their boycott. Democrats refused to attend after their request to delay the vote over ethics concerns was denied.

The boycott also delayed the vote on Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin. Before the rule change, at least 1 Democrat from the committee needed to attend for voting to proceed.

Price, a Georgia Republican and physician, was nominated to run the giant agency that oversees Medicaid, Medicare, the FDA, and the CDC. His selection has drawn scrutiny after lawmakers learned that about the orthopedic surgeon’s business transactions that seemed linked to his advocacy for legislation or CMS regulations.

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the Democrats’ boycott “the most pathetic treatment I have seen in my 40 years in the United States Senate.” Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, who has sponsored one of the bills to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), said Democrats stayed away because “they don’t have a sense of crisis.”

CNN and other outlets reported that the boycott materialized because Democrats felt they had been misled in earlier appearances. Appearing on MSNBC, Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the Democrats wanted the committee to "regroup," and get additional information. The nominees, Brown said, need to "clarify what they lied about," and get senators "the information we need for our states."

Hatch told Democrats Tuesday to “stop posturing and acting like idiots.” The criticism comes after Hatch has been one of the few in his party to oppose calls to end the Senate filibuster, which protects the rights of the minority party. Instead, today Hatch suggested changing Senate rules in response.

Senators have questioned the timing of Price's stock purchases in an Australian biomedical company, as well as a separate purchase made before he sponsored a bill to delay a bundled payment program for joint replacements. The company involved, Zimmer Biomet, also donated to Price’s re-election campaign.

Price was an early and consistent critic of the ACA and presented an alternate health plan that would have ended the individual mandate and removed protections for people with pre-existing conditions unless they maintained continuous coverage. His bill also called for ending Medicaid expansion and would have created state high-risk pools.

At his hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on January 24, 2017, he downplayed his ability to affect the future of the ACA, saying he would implement whatever laws Congress passed. Republican lawmakers have started the process to repeal the ACA, and competing replacement plans have been introduced in the Senate.

He is staunchly anti-abortion and opposes free birth control, and opposed a law that would have barred employers from firing a woman for having an abortion or using birth control. Recent evidence, including a report from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that increased access to birth control has helped bring the abortion and teen pregnancy rates to their lowest levels in decades.

Unlike many fellow Republicans, Price has not been fully on board with the transition to value-based care. Besides his opposition to bundled payments, he has been a harsh critic of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. He voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) but has criticized its implementation, saying the final rule would impede patient-doctor relationships.

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