Democrats continued to pound Rep. Tom Price on ethical questions that have dogged his nomination to run Health and Human Services, and he refused to promise that President Donald Trump’s executive order on Obamacare wouldn’t force current enrollees to lose coverage.
Democrats, who aggressively questioned Price on whether he wrote legislation to boost his investments, have urged Republicans to slow down the nomination process and join their calls for an investigation into whether the six-term congressman broke any ethical guidelines or laws.
“Set aside the legal questions,” said Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s hard to see how this can be anything but a conflict of interest and an abuse of his position.”
The latest hits to Price’s nomination came just hours before the Finance Committee hearing. A committee memo revealed that Price originally had significantly undervalued his stake in an Australian biotech firm – an investment that Democratic leaders already contended warrants an SEC investigation. And the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday another instance in which Price wrote legislation that would have benefitted companies he had invested in.
Republicans mounted a strong defense of Price, who Trump has said will play an integral role in crafting an Obamacare alternative. Chairman Orrin Hatch chastised Senate Democrats for their opposition, claiming they’re pumping up nonexistent ethical concerns to stonewall Trump’s nominees.
“I’ve never seen this level of partisan rancor when it comes to dealing with a president from an opposing party,” said Chairman Orrin Hatch said in opening remarks.
On Obamacare, Price dodged questions about whether Trump’s executive order force will force people off Obamacare coverage, despite promises from many Republicans they want to ensure the law’s 20 million enrollees wouldn’t be hurt by efforts to replace the law.
Here are the key moments from Tuesday’s hearing:
Republicans defend Price: Republicans tried to deflect Democratic attacks on Price’s health care investments as a partisan attack on Trump. Chairman Orrin Hatch, who defended the Georgia Republican, said the committee has already spent twice as long vetting Price as it did President Barack Obama’s two HHS secretaries.
“I have never seen a party in the Senate — from its leaders on down — publicly commit to not only opposing virtually every nomination, but to attacking and maligning virtually every single nominee,” Hatch said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), vouched for Price as he introduced him to the committee. “He’s not exciting, he’s sometimes boring, but he’s always right,” he said.
Price won’t make coverage promise: Wyden tried to pin down Price on two points on Trump’s executive order on Obamacare – whether it would force current enrollees to lose coverage, and whether Cabinet agencies would look to use the order before a replacement plan is ready. Price dodged both questions from Wyden.
Trump’s executive order instructing federal agencies to do everything in their power to undermine Obamacare has prompted concerns that his administration could move too quickly to strike down major parts of the law unilaterally, causing chaos in the insurance markets before Congress agrees on a replacement.
Price only said that he would promise to put “patients at the center of health care,” refusing to tackle the questions directly.
The unknown ‘replacement’ plan: Without a consensus Obamacare replacement plan in sight, Wyden said Trump’s vague executive order on Obamacare “endangers” Americans’ health. Trump senior adviser Kellanne Conway said this weekend that Trump could move quickly to strike the individual mandate, which insurers worry could destabilize the Obamacare marketplaces because healthier people would no longer be required to purchase coverage.
Jason Millman contributed to this report.