Rep. Price Nears Senate Confirmation as Health Secretary

Rep. Tom Price. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Republicans are ready to overpower Democrats and push another of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees through the Senate, the man who will help lead the GOP drive to erase and replace the health care law.

The Senate voted 51-48 Wednesday to short-circuit Democratic delaying tactics against Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s choice for health secretary. Final approval of Price seemed certain, a vote that would elevate the long-time proponent of dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law and reshaping and curbing Medicare and Medicaid. Those goals, for many Republicans, are high on the GOP agenda.

The debate over Price was coming in a week that has so far seen Democrats, eager to show liberal constituents that they are taking a stand against Trump, ferociously but unsuccessfully opposing two nominees for top administration jobs.

Over solid Democratic opposition and two GOP defections, it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence for the Senate to approve wealthy GOP donor Betsy DeVos on Tuesday to head the Education Department. Under the Constitution, one of the duties of a vice president is to break tie votes in the 100-member Senate.

On Wednesday, the chamber confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be attorney general. That debate was bitter, fueled by Democratic accusations that Sessions lacked a devotion to civil rights laws and wouldn’t stand up to President Trump.

The Sessions battle also saw a rare Senate wrist-slap against one of its own as Republicans late Tuesday pushed through a rebuke of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for violating the chamber’s rule against impugning a colleague. That came after Warren read on the Senate floor a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s widow, criticizing Sessions during his rejected judicial nomination 31 years ago.

Price is a conservative seven-term House member from Atlanta’s suburbs who until recently chaired that chamber’s budget committee.

Republicans have talked longingly of confirming Price because one pillar of their strategy to gut Obama’s law is for the Department of Health and Human Services, which he would run, to issue regulations weakening it, perhaps including letting states experiment with how they use federal Medicaid funds.

“He’s going to be the guy ultimately who’s responsible for implementing” a GOP replacement plan, said No. 3. Senate Republican leader John Thune of South Dakota. Republicans have yet to craft their proposal.