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Out of the Leadership Loop, Price Is Free to Forge His Path on Health Care

When Speaker John A. Boehner told a reporter after this month’s elections that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” Rep. Tom Price said he felt “the same dread I had as when I was in the Supreme Court when Chief Justice Roberts read his ruling” upholding the law.

The Georgia Republican, a doctor and top House conservative, is now offering his own take on how the right wing can take on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, and that strategy is not in line with leadership’s priorities.

Price, the outgoing GOP Policy Committee chairman, lost his bid to continue up the leadership ladder when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington beat him to be conference chairman.

Although Boehner remained neutral publicly, it is no secret that leaders supported McMorris Rodgers, a loyal Boehner ally and a reliable vote for leadership.

Just before the elections, Boehner offered Price, who has at times bucked party leaders, a different spot at the leadership table if he dropped his bid and pledged to vote along with leadership for the next two years. Price declined.

Now he said he wants to continue passing full repeal bills and get the GOP to unify on health care legislation to show voters what type of change the party would institute if given the chance. Neither are priorities of GOP leadership. “The way that you actually attract individuals to a cause is to provide a vision. As the good book says, where there is no vision, the people perish,” Price said in an interview with Roll Call.

In going down this path, Price is showing a willingness to move to the right of the party line that might have given other leaders pause.

“The question is, what is he going to do with all that extra time?” a GOP aide said. “We know he’s a go-getter.” Such a stance, however, is in line with Price’s history as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and it could pay dividends for him if he decides to take on Sen. Saxby Chambliss in a primary, presumably by running to the senator’s right.

Chambliss, who was forced into a runoff election in 2008 after failing to clear 50 percent of the vote in the initial contest, has recently criticized GOP fealty to Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

A coming primary battle with Chambliss would create incentive for Price to break to the right of GOP leadership.

But since he lost to McMorris Rodgers, Price has stayed on message on other GOP priorities, such as the fiscal cliff. At least publicly, that is what GOP leaders appear to expect. In a statement to Roll Call, Boehner said, “Tom is an important part of our team and he has been a leader on key issues like jobs, spending, and health care. That isn’t going to change.”

Even without a leadership perch, Price’s seat on the Ways and Means Committee provides him with a platform on issues such as health care and tax overhaul.

“I know that you don’t have to be the leader to lead. There are all sorts of opportunities, and there is more than enough work to go around. I’ve told the speaker, and the leader and others in leadership that I’m here to serve in whatever role I can best play to help advance conservative principles. And I’m happy to help,” Price said.

Price is certain to continue to play a key role on health care, even if the chances for full repeal are out of reach with Obama in office for another four years.

The Georgia Republican offered a multipart strategy for his party going forward.

First, Price said, the House should focus on parts of the law for which there is bipartisan support for repeal. He said the medical device tax, the Independent Payment Advisory Board and a “medical loss ratio” rule were examples.

Second, the Obama administration will likely need Congress to fix legally problematic sections of the law, such as language about subsidies for health care exchanges.

Any changes or improvements to the law sought by the administration could provide the House leverage for changes that Republicans want.

Third, Price said the GOP must unify around and promote its own health care bill to show voters what “patient-centered” reform looks like.

“We’re the minority party in Washington. Democrats control the Senate. Democrats have the White House. Part of the role of the minority is not just to hold the other side accountable. It’s to also provide a positive contrast for real solutions. And in this instance, we have a real solution for the health challenges that the country faces that actually solves the problem and puts patients [first],” Price said.

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