Tom Price to HHS means big changes for Obamacare, Georgia politics

The news broke Monday night that Donald Trump has tapped Georgia's Tom Price to be secretary of health and human services . It wasn't a surprising report, but it confirms one thing and sets in motion a number of others.

First, what it confirms: The president-elect is serious about repealing and replacing Obamacare. Price, the Roswell physician just re-elected to a seventh term in the U.S. House, has long been at the forefront of the GOP's talk about ditching Obamacare in favor of what he bills as a more "patient-centered" law. As long as Barack Obama resided in the White House, that wasn't possible. Now it is. But Price isn't just a health-policy wonk; as chairman of the House budget committee the past two years, he has dug into the details of all federal revenue and spending. If Trump wants someone who not only understands how health policy works but all the ins and outs of Washington's health budgets, including those for Medicaid and Medicare, he couldn't do better than Price. The legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare will have to come from someone else with Price moving out of the Capitol, but he'll be well-positioned to have great influence in how it's drafted -- and certainly in how it's implemented.

As an aside, Price is close with House Speaker Paul Ryan, so his nomination would also seem to speak well of the influence Ryan and his circle will have over policy. There has of course been plenty of talk about how Trump and congressional Republicans will get along. This move doesn't mean there will be no disagreements, but if Trump wanted to keep Ryan and his allies at arm's length he might not have chosen Price. As a former chairman of the House's conservative Republican Study Committee, Price can also be seen as an olive branch from Trump to movement conservatives (although Price was hardly #NeverTrump and in fact campaigned for him early and loudly ).

Now for what it sets in motion. The scramble to fill Price's seat will be intense. My colleague Greg Bluestein has already compiled a list of nearly a dozen folks who could throw their hats in the ring. We surely won't see that many, but the large number of names suggests a) the field will be fairly large, and b) there's no real favorite. The domino effect will be real. Greg's list includes six state legislators: three apiece from the House and Senate. Running in a special election would normally allow them to give it a shot without giving up their seats -- but because this special election will could take place during the 2017 session, at least a couple of them might resign their seats to campaign full-time. There's precedent for that: Both Tom Graves and Lee Hawkins stepped down from the General Assembly in 2010 to run for Nathan Deal's congressional seat, which Graves won. Some of the names on the list could instead seek offices vacated by those running for Congress.

There's also a 2018 effect here. It was well-known Price was strongly considering a run for governor in two years. That would now seem to be off the table. That could draw another congressman into the race. (Just spit-balling here: Graves? Doug Collins?) Or a non-congressman. Or it could simply boost the chances of others running to succeed Gov. Deal.

If nothing else, this is another sign that after several years out of the D.C. limelight, Georgians will have a larger say in matters moving forward.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.