(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Tom Price, a congressman and physician, to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a post where he’ll have a leading role in Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare and implement its replacement, and oversee a budget of more than $1 trillion.
The vote was 52-47, making Price the most contentious nominee for the position since at least President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Democrats opposed him because of his free-market, limited-government views on how the American health-care system should operate, and his past efforts to privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher system. They also strongly criticized him for leaving questions unanswered about stock purchases in medical companies he made while handling health-care legislation.
“President Trump is setting up his cabinet to run our country in a way that benefits those at the top and their allies, but really hurts the workers and families we all serve.” Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said on the Senate floor during Thursday’s debate on Price. “It’s hard to imagine who in America would be better off under Congressman Price’s leadership at HHS.”
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, backed the nominee, who was an orthopedic surgeon before being elected to Congress.
“Dr. Price has extensive insight into our nation’s health-care system, having practiced medicine for two decades in a variety of settings,” Hatch said. He “will put this vast experience to good use and be decisive not only in working with Congress to find solutions but implementing them.”
Democrats have been trying to delay Trump’s remaining Cabinet picks on the Senate floor, though they don’t have the votes to block them. After Price, the Senate will turn to efforts to confirm Steven Mnuchin — another nominee that Democrats accuse of not telling the full truth during hearings — to lead the Treasury Department. It took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, a historical first, to confirm Betsy DeVos as head of the Education Department in a 51-50 vote on Tuesday. And Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general by a vote of 52-47 on Wednesday.
The biggest piece of HHS’s budget goes to Medicare, the U.S. program for the elderly and disabled, with another large chunk devoted to Medicaid. Seema Verma, Trump’s pick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an HHS agency, will face a confirmation hearing next Thursday at the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Hatch. Other HHS agencies include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
Price has served in the U.S. House representing Georgia since 2004. (Photo: iStock)