Senate Dems Call For Ethics Probe Of HHS Secretary Nominee Tom Price

J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Democrats are calling for Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be subject to an ethics investigation before the Senate takes up his nomination to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thursday morning, Democrats announced that Public Citizen–an anti-corruption watchdog– filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Price's trading of more than $300,000 in health care stocks while he had jurisdiction over the health care industry as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and had sponsored several bills regulating the health care industry.

"I urge Republicans to work with us to make sure we have all of the facts in front of us and they are fully reviewed before Congressman Price advances," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said during a press conference Thursday morning.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he wasn't sure if Price actually broke the law, but he wanted the investigation to learn more.

"That is why we need an investigation. There is enough evidence here that calls out for an investigation. Whether the law was actually broken ... we don't know, but there is enough information here that it should be investigated before Congressman Price comes up for a hearing," Schumer said.

The call for OCE to investigate comes after a rocky week for the independent House investigation unit. On Monday night, House Republicans – in an effort led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)– tried to defang the independent investigator and take away its ability to conduct its investigations freely and without oversight by Congress. That effort later died, but Schumer insinuated that the move Monday was an effort to shield Price.

"Who were they trying to protect?" Schumer asked.

It's highly unlikely Republicans will delay Price's confirmation to make time for what could be a lengthy ethics investigation. In fact, Democrats have very little leverage because of a 2013 rules change that requires only a simple majority to confirm cabinet nominees in the Senate.

But Democrats are still trying to make a public showing of Price's potential conflict of interest or perhaps even just the optics of one. The focus could make Price's confirmation process more uncomfortable.

News of Price's stock trading broke in the Wall Street Journal in December and gave Democrats another angle to attack Price on. Price had also been a key opponent of Obamacare and a constant advocate for privatizing Medicare– both things Democrats had already planned to grill him on during his confirmation hearing.

Before any hearing moves forward Democrats have demanded that they want to know when and who Price met with, if he personally traded the stocks and whether he used any proprietary information he had as the chairman of the House Budget Committee to make decisions that benefitted him financially.

"At a minimum you have to be sensitive to a conflict of interest," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "If you have used your position ... to get inside information, that is a serious ethical breach."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.
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