- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rep. Tom Price is quickly shooting to the top of the list of most embattled Trump nominees ahead of his confirmation hearing Wednesday as Democrats accuse him of ethical lapses, saying he may have used his position in Congress to try to enrich himself.

Mr. Price, who has been tapped to lead the Health and Human Services Department, reportedly traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in health company shares while supporting legislation that could affect those companies. He also bought stock in a medical device manufacturer before filing legislation to delay onerous regulations that would upset the company, according to a CNN report this week.

The Trump transition team says Mr. Price did nothing wrong and that his financial adviser made the trades as part of a much larger portfolio.

Yet Democrats set to question Mr. Price before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee want to know if the congressman ran afoul of the Stock Act, a 2012 law that bars members of Congress from converting nonpublic information they glean on the job into a windfall on Wall Street.

“If he knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told CNN.

The liberal think tank Center for American Progress called for Mr. Price to withdraw his nomination in the wake of the report.

Ethics watchdogs are scrambling to untangle a web of financial interests among President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, including Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire tapped to be education secretary, and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee who oversaw Exxon Mobile’s sprawling global petroleum business.

Democrats say some of the nominees have yet to get a clean bill from the Office of Government Ethics, holding up their confirmation proceedings.

But Mr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon and polite — if self-assured — conservative, was always going to be a particular target for Democrats.

Liberal advocacy groups say Mr. Price is hostile to some of the programs he would oversee as secretary.

Chief among those is Medicare, the government’s health care coverage for senior citizens, which is popular among its beneficiaries but is exploding in cost. Mr. Price has supported plans to change Medicare into a premium support program.

Mr. Price’s nomination also has become an early proxy fight over Republican plans to repeal Obamacare — a push he would oversee if confirmed as secretary.

Mr. Price has repeatedly offered his own legislative alternatives to Obamacare, giving Republicans a head start in their bid to coalesce around a final plan.

Yet political opposition to his nomination mounted in late December, when The Wall Street Journal reported that he traded more than $300,000 in shares linked to health care companies even as he advocated for legislation that could affect those firms.

The issue simmered and then burst into view Monday, when CNN reported that Mr. Price filed the HIP Act, which would have helped Zimmer Biomet after purchasing put to $15,000 in the medical device manufacturer.

The Trump transition team says Mr. Price is being smeared by “junk reporting.”

It says Mr. Price didn’t know about the Biomet purchase until April 4 — roughly two weeks after he filed the relevant legislation. Mr. Price had been mulling the legislation publicly since at least September 2015, it said.

“Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Mr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false. The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal media allies cannot abide the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation,” Trump transition spokesman Phil Blando said.

Mr. Schumer doesn’t appear to be buying it, saying Mr. Price’s stock moves hewed too closely to the legislation.

“His legislation wasn’t broad legislation,” he said. “It didn’t affect health care in general.”

Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University who spent time as an observer in Harry Reid’s Senate majority leadership office in 2012, when the Stock Act became law, said Mr. Price should survive the confirmation process if he discloses his trades as required by law.

“The Democrats may cuff him around a bit, but I think he’ll get confirmed,” he said.

Others agreed, saying the situation probably falls short of a legal breach yet merits scrutiny.

“I’m inclined to agree that it’s extremely unappetizing to have congressmen making these trades on these particular stocks when they’re in position to affect their value,” said Norm Eisen, the former ethics “czar” for President Obama.

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