Donald Trump nominates Tom Price for health cabinet post

President-elect Donald Trump formally tapped Roswell Congressman Tom Price to lead the department of health and human services Tuesday, putting a Georgian with close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan at the center of efforts to dismantle President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” said Trump. “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American. I am proud to nominate him as Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

The announcement came 12 hours after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported that Price had been  offered the position.

Price said in a statement he looked forward to the challenge.

"There is much work to be done to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit," he said.

Confirmation battle ahead?

Price's nomination is likely to advance through the Senate, although Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, indicated Democrats would not go easy on the former orthopedic surgeon.

“Congressman Price has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want when it comes to Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and Planned Parenthood," the New Yorker said in a statement. "Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house." 

Senators are generally more deferential when it comes to the nominations of fellow lawmakers. A rules change initiated by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 also significantly lowered the bar for executive branch nominations, requiring only 51 votes for confirmation. With the GOP controlling exactly 51 seats after this month's election, Price is well-positioned to take the reins at health and human services in the new year.

Peach State Republicans, meanwhile, lauded the pick.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue said, "there is no doubt in my mind that he will do a fantastic job improving our nation's health care system and the lives of all Americans."

Changing fortunes

The announcement represents a stark change of political fortune for Price, a Michigan native who moved to metro Atlanta to complete his residency at Emory University.

But before two weeks ago, he was seen as more likely to be eyeing a return to Georgia as opposed to a move down Washington, D.C.'s Independence Avenue, where the department of health and human services is headquartered.

Price has long been rumored to be eyeing the Governor's Mansion or other leadership posts. He briefly threw his hat into the ring for House majority leader after Speaker John Boehner's departure in September 2015 but later stepped aside.

The Cabinet position would allow Price to leverage his close relationship with Ryan, a friend from their years together on the budget panel, to dismantle Obamacare and assemble a more decentralized replacement system.

When he inherited the House Budget gavel from Ryan in 2015, Price enjoyed something his predecessor did not: Republican control of the Senate. That enabled him to get an Obamacare repeal bill to the president's desk, a first for the GOP. Barack Obama quickly vetoed that measure, which also sought to defund Planned Parenthood.

A similar measure will sail with Trump in the White House, although the New Yorker recently indicated he would rather overhaul the Affordable Care Act than gut it entirely. Another push Price made as Budget chairman, making sweeping structural changes to Medicare, is a charge Ryan is likely to move forward on in the year ahead.

Ryan called Price "the absolute perfect choice" for the health and human services position.

"We could not ask for a better partner to work with Congress to fix our nation's health care challenges," the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement. 

Political background

Health care policy has long been the motivating force in Price's political career. He got his start as a leader of the Medical Association of Georgia in the mid-1990s.

He won a seat in the Georgia Senate in 1996, where he spent his first years in office in the minority focused on tax cuts and fiscally conservative policies. That helped elevate him to the position of minority whip, and when the GOP took control of the chamber in 2002 he became majority leader.

Democrats that session still had shaky control of the state House, which forced Price and other GOP leaders to forge compromises in order to govern. One of his biggest accomplishments as majority leader was helping arrange passage of Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed tobacco tax increase, a deal he cut with then-Sen. Kasim Reed, the Democrat who's now Atlanta mayor.

Price came to Washington in 2004, filling the House seat vacated by Johnny Isakson when he moved to the Senate, where health care continued to be his focus. In 2009, the same year Democrats unveiled the Affordable Care Act, Price offered an alternate health care plan. He introduced that measure at the start of each new Congress but it never came up for a vote, even after the GOP took control of the House in 2011.

Earl Rogers, president of the Georgia Hospital Association, said Price has "been a strong advocate for Georgia's hospital and patient communities regarding reimbursement for care, pharmaceutical issues, senior care and home health" and would make an "outstanding" health and human services secretary.

Potential replacements 

A cadre of Republicans has already surfaced in the 6th congressional District to replace Price.

The names of state Sens. John Albers, Brandon Beach and Judson Hill have been floated, as have those of state Reps. Chuck Martin and Jan Jones. Other possibilities include former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, ex-state Sen. Dan Moody, immigration attorney Chuck Kuck and state Rep. Betty Price, the wife of the current congressman.

The 6th District includes portions of Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb counties and until earlier this month was viewed as one of the most Republican districts in the country. Changing demographics, however, prompted Cobb to vote for a Democrat for president for the first time in 40 years on Nov. 8.

Price's nomination and likely departure from Congress means that the Georgia delegation's political clout once again takes a hit.

Having served in the House for 12 years, Price was slated to be the senior-most Georgia Republican in the chamber in 2017.  The delegation has become significantly younger in recent years due to the retirement of Saxby Chambliss in 2014 and the race to replace him, which knocked out three longtime House incumbents.

Price was also Georgia's only committee chairman in the House.

Read more about Tom Price:  

Explore Georgia Republican could be at center of effort to undo Obamacare
Explore Georgia’s Price looks to balance GOP interests in second budget
ExploreTom Price offers GOP a health care choice, but consensus is elusive

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