Democrats concerned about seniors, children, the disadvantaged and disabled took HHS Nominee Tom Price to task in his first day of Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Price faced withering questions from committee Democrats which he sometimes struggled to answer or simply evaded. Skeptical about Price’s statement at the beginning of the hearing that, “Nobody’s interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody,” Democrats held his feet to the fire where his record contradicts that promise.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) confronted Price (a Republican member of the U.S. House) about his past proposals to slash Medicare and Medicaid. “You would have cut Medicare by $449 billion… and would have cut Medicaid funding by more than $1 trillion dollars, correct?” Warren asked Price. “You have the numbers before you,” he said. When Warren asked if Price would honor President-elect Trump’s pledge not to cut Medicare or Medicaid by even one dollar, the nominee would not commit – insisting that the amount of funding is the “wrong metric.”
“The millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid are not going to be reassured,” warned Senator Warren, suggesting that Price print out Trump’s pledge and post it above his desk. “Americans will be watching to see if you follow through on that promise.”
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) also confronted Price about the future of Medicare and Medicaid in the new administration. “You have said you plan to overhaul Medicare in the first 6-8 months of this administration in a way that would end the guarantee of full coverage.”
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) expressed concerns about Price’s policies and priorities, especially his fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act. “I see you as someone who is there for the doctors,” Franken chided. (Price is a physician as well as a Congressman.) Franken told Price that repealing the Affordable Care Act “is going to unravel something that has given a lot of Americans peace of mind.”
Democrats also grilled Price about personal stock transactions affected by his decisions as a legislator. “Do you believe it is appropriate for a senior member of Congress, actively involved in policymaking in the health sector, to repeatedly personally invest in a drug company that could benefit from those actions?” Murray asked. “That’s not what happened,” said Price.
Republicans on the committee were largely cordial and complimentary to Rep. Price.
Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) allowed each member only one round of questions with a 7-minute time limit, prompting complaints from Democrats that important hearings were being rushed and the American people denied sufficient time to learn about the nominees. Price will have another hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on January 24th.