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Sparring Over Price Takes Center Stage

Has first of two confirmation hearings

Rep. Tom Price, seen here meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, faces his first confirmation hearing Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Tom Price, seen here meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, faces his first confirmation hearing Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate chamber might be the quietest place in Washington this week (except for the House chamber).

The Senate’s keeping the floor lights dimmed until inauguration morning on Friday, and the Senate GOP is forgoing the usual weekly media stakeout by the Ohio Clock in the Capitol, citing extra access restrictions this week.

Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer was poised to go ahead with his, though.

Besides that, the adjoining office buildings will be abuzz with confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees.

The bulk of the attention might be on Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican tapped to helm the Department of Health and Human Services.

In his prepared remarks, the man who has been the House Budget Committee chairman will refer to “heroes” across the department, including medical researchers, with a specific nod to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta near his home.

“There are heroes among the talented, dedicated men and women working to provide critical social services — helping families and, particularly, children have a higher quality of living and the opportunity to rise up and strive to achieve their American Dream — something we all want for ourselves and our loved ones,” Pence will say, according to an advance copy of his statement provided by a transition official.

Trump’s team pushed back on some questions about stock trades by Price, explaining that a broker bought medical device stock as part of a routine re-balance of the congressman’s holdings without his input.

[Trump Team Disputes HHS Nominee Price’s Stock Trading Issue]

Late Tuesday, the transition team called for CNN to retract its initial reporting on the stock trades.

Still, the news prompted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to call for an SEC investigation of possible violations of the STOCK Act in a new letter to the financial regulator. That law was designed to bar insider trading by, among others, members of Congress.

Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, was a lead author of the measure.

Price will appear before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at 10 a.m. It is the Finance Committee that really controls the initial fate of the HHS secretary nominee, though.

Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch has scheduled that hearing for Jan. 24, which is the Tuesday after the new president will be sworn in.

“Installing Dr. Price to lead HHS is a paramount step in repealing and replacing Obamacare with patient-centered reforms that address costs and increase choice,” the Utah Republican said Tuesday in a statement. “I look forward to having Rep. Price before the Committee to further examine his numerous qualifications to lead the Department.”

Ranking Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon is accusing Hatch of rushing the hearing.

“Instead of confronting the serious issues raised about Congressman Price, Republicans are rushing to sneak his nomination through before all outstanding questions have been answered,” Wyden said. “The Finance Committee has a long, bipartisan tradition of thoroughly reviewing every nominee that comes before the committee, and I’m disappointed that my colleagues have chosen to cut corners and rush this process due to political pressure.”

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