Senate Democrats are calling for a delay in the confirmation hearing for Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, after reports surfaced detailing stock purchases he made while overseeing legislation of the health industry.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, asked for an investigation of Price by the Congressional ethics office. “We don’t know if he broke the law, but there are certainly enough, serious questions to warrant an investigation before any hearing is held on Congressman Price to become secretary of HHS,” Schumer said at a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday morning.
Price, the current head of the House Budget Committee who has led the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, traded more than $300,000 worth of stocks in 40 health industry companies over the past two years, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. During that time he sponsored or co-sponsored 44 pieces of legislation that involve the health industry.
As HHS secretary, Price would play a critical role in the replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
The government watchdog group, Public Citizen filed the complaint with the House Office of Congressional Ethics, asking if Price violated the Stock Act.
“While the information available so far on the stock trading activities of Reps. Price and (Chris) Collins (of New York) falls short of evidence that any illegal insider trading or violations of congressional ethics rules have occurred, the patterns, opportunities and remarkable financial benefits gained, and to be gained, warrant investigation,” Public Citizen wrote in their complaint.
Phil Blando, a spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump's transition, called the Democrats' move hypocritical.
“Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington. The same questions being raised today by Senator Schumer about Dr. Price should be directed to Senators Carper, Warner, and Whitehouse, who own and have traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and health insurance company stocks," Blando said, referring to three Democratic senators. "The reality is that Dr. Price’s 20-year career as an orthopedic surgeon and a fiscal conservative make him uniquely qualified to lead HHS."
Blando also notes that Price has responded to additional questions from senators and that he has submitted requested information to the Office of Government Ethics.
Schumer, flanked by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, are calling for Price’s confirmation hearing to be postponed until the investigation is complete, a process that could take months.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has lead jurisdiction over Price's nomination, said he would not delay the hearings to wait for any investigation.
"That's been fully disclosed," Hatch said of Price's stock activity. "Anybody would make a fuss out of that is beyond me - that's just mean spirited."
Murray, a member of the Health, Education and Labor Committee, which also holds hearings on Price’s nomination, met with Price on Wednesday. She wouldn’t detail how he responded her questions about his stock market activity but said it reinforced her belief that an investigation is necessary.
“It’s part of why I believe so strongly today this needs a serious investigation by the OCE,” Murray said.
Republicans attempted to gut the House ethics office during their first day back in session this year, but public outrage forced them to drop those efforts.
“It begs the question, who were they trying to protect?” Schumer rhetorically asked.