Tom Price Becomes Leader of Crusade to Roll Back Obamacare

Georgia congressman confirmed overnight as Health and Human Services secretary

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, testifies at his Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Buildinglast month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, testifies at his Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Buildinglast month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 10, 2017 at 5:17am

Confirmation of Rep. Tom Price gives President Donald Trump his desired point man for replacing Obamacare. Now what?

Price won approval of the Senate, 52-47, around 2 a.m. Friday, and Republicans expect the confirmation will speed up work on rolling back the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it gets it moving,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

Price, the Georgia Republican, is expected to hit the ground running as secretary of Health and Human Services, taking advantage of the fact that the 2010 health care overhaul gave significant discretion to the executive branch in implementation, meaning that HHS should be able to quickly ease coverage mandates and change eligibility requirements for those people seeking to join plans outside enrollment.

But that’s only the first bucket of changes. The second bucket relies on Republicans on Capitol Hill coalescing around a repeal and replacement proposal through the budget reconciliation process.

The Trump administration has signaled that the newly confirmed Price will be outlining the views of the president on that part of the process, as well. As the former chairman of the House Budget Committee and a medical doctor, Price is familiar to both friends and foes of the ACA.

Cornyn told reporters ahead of the vote that coming together behind a single bill that complies with the rather byzantine Senate budget rules is the most immediate task.

“It is going to take us a series of actions and it’s not going to be another 2,700 page bill. We’re working to achieve consensus. After seven years we’ve got all sorts of great ideas but we have to come together behind one,” the Texas Republican said. “We have to do it consistent with the budget reconciliation rules, which constrain how much we can do through that process, but a combination of what Dr. Price can do, once confirmed, administratively, together with the reconciliation bill, follow that on with I hope at some point a bipartisan bill that finishes the job.”

Much of the floor debate from opponents to Price was centered on his criticism of the Affordable Care Act and its provisions, as well as concerns about Price’s plans for Medicare.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, just before midnight highlighted what he viewed as a contradiction between Price’s legislative record in the House and the views Trump espoused during his run for president.

“President Trump through the campaign issued pretty much ironclad guarantees to seniors that he was going to maintain Medicare, maintain Social Security, but then he appoints a guy whose whole professional career has been aimed at undermining Medicare,” King said. “I think they better get on the same page. I don’t always agree with President Trump, but in this case, I think he’s right. I wish he’d whisper into the ear of his nominee. You can’t have it both ways.”

King’s comments came in a long chain of floor speeches, mainly by Democratic critics of Price.

“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,” Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York warned ahead of the vote. “When it comes to the health care of older Americans, confirming Rep. Price to be HHS Secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

While Democrats did a lot of the talking, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., did give a lengthy presentation praising his home state colleague.

“He is a remarkable individual and we should take comfort in his nomination to this important position because he has years of service and years of experience working within our nation’s health care system. He has been a practicing physician, a state legislator, and a member of the United States House of Representatives,” Perdue said. “Dr. Price knows that government intrusion has already negatively impacted patient care in the last few years. He has years of professional experience as a physician and he’s seen as a leading voice in health care policy.”

Senators and staff received a brief reprieve from what has been a grueling effort to confirm Trump’s senior executive branch nominees following the 2 a.m. vote sequence, with lawmakers reaching an agreement to push back the final action on the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary until next Monday night.

Returning to the Capitol as the clerk had begun to call the roll for Price’s confirmation vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waved and said that it’s “just another day in the Senate.”

— Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.