Georgia’s Price looks to balance GOP interests in second budget

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell

Price, 61, became the chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee in 2015. He is also a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

He was first elected to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in November 2004.

In the past, Price has served as chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Key legislation:

In 2015, Price pushed through an agreement between the House and Senate that would balance the budget over a 10-year period. The blueprint, which passed along party lines, is the first balanced-budget agreement between the House and Senate since 2001.

An orthopedic surgeon, Price is a prominent voice on health policy in the Republican Party and a critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He says the ACA “is driving up costs for families and businesses and kicking millions of people off of health care plans they had and liked.” He has proposed his own bill as an alternative to Obamacare that would provide age-based tax credits that range from $900 to $3,000 per year. The replacement would be less generous than the current income-based tax credits, which average $3,264 per year.

Previous experience:

Price, who served four terms in the Georgia State Senate, became Georgia’s first Republican Senate majority leader after the GOP took control of the chamber in the 2002 election.

A native of Lansing, Mich., Price worked for nearly 20 years as an orthopedic surgeon. He was an assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine and the medical director of the orthopedic clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital.


Bachelor’s and Doctor of Medicine degrees from the University of Michigan.

Completed his residence in orthopedic surgery at Emory University.


A wife, Betty, who now serves in the Georgia House of Representatives, and a son.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Roswell Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Price has an enviable political perch on Capitol Hill. He has the ear of the speaker and a megaphone for disseminating ambitious policy ideas such as balancing the budget in 10 years — views he’s indicated he’d like to move to an even larger national platform someday.

But being the head of a committee also has its share of unglamorous moments, including the arm twisting and nitty-gritty legislative compromises that sometimes have election-year consequences.

Price will reclaim his place in the spotlight this week — and likely experience the rush and headaches that come with his position — as he looks to advance his second budget blueprint through his panel and eventually across the House floor.

His task isn’t an easy one.

Price must find a way to build consensus between two increasingly disparate wings of his party: fiscal conservatives wary of any federal spending that adds to the debt and defense hawks whose main focus is to funnel more resources to the Pentagon.

“The budget is one of those things that, because it’s so expansive, there are always things that people could look at and say, ‘No, I don’t believe that’s what we ought to do and therefore I’m not going to be supportive.’ It’s why I tell folks you’ve got to want to vote yes, and then we can identify and incorporate things within the budget that you’d like to see because no one person is going to agree with everything in the budget,” Price said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Shoot, I didn’t even agree with everything in the budget, but that’s the nature of the budget.”

The resolution Price is seeking to move does not have the force of law, even if both chambers of Congress pass the measure. It’s not even mandatory this year, since congressional leaders and President Barack Obama already agreed last fall on how much to spend on government programs for the upcoming budget cycle.

Its importance is mainly as a political blueprint that lays out the House GOP's vision for governing — in contrast with the president's — that can help set the parameters for work later this year on the 12 must-pass spending bills that collectively fund the government. It could also unlock a special fast-track legislative process some lawmakers are hoping could be used to aid a possible Republican president in early 2017.

Failing to move such a blueprint would be a political embarrassment for Price and party leaders, since it would raise questions about their ability to govern and manage their members. It would be especially mortifying for new Speaker Paul Ryan, a former Budget Committee chairman, himself, who has built expectations among members of his party for completing spending bills that showcase the GOP’s policy priorities.

Price said that having Ryan, R-Wis., whom he also counts as a friend, in the speakership makes his job easier.

“It’s as different as night and day in terms of the understanding from the top level of the leadership about the budget process,” he said.

Hurdles ahead

This class of House Republicans is a raucous bunch, one that helped drive then-Speaker John Boehner to resign in October and has made it hard for party leaders to move even routine legislation.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are angry about $30 billion the October budget deal added to non-entitlement programs for the new budget year and want to see it erased. The defense hawks want to keep it in place and see even more money go toward the Defense Department.

Price, now in his second year at the helm of the Budget Committee, has bought into the Ryan school of being a committee chairman: He said he’s had an open-door policy, engaging with lawmakers on and off the committee all year about what they would like to see in the upcoming blueprint. Price said he also tried to be upfront about what is and is not accomplishable through the blueprint, since it does not have the force of law.

“I think sometimes there’s a sense among members of Congress that the budget is more than it is,” Price said.

The challenge is finding a plan that secures 218 Republican votes, since the minority party generally does not vote for the majority’s budget. That means leaders can only afford to lose 28 Republicans, assuming all members vote.

That essentially gives the conservative House Freedom Caucus veto power if its 40-odd members stick together. The same goes for the informal group of defense hawks, which at times tops 100 members.

“With documents this large, it’s important to make certain that we’re listening to every faction within the conference so that they have an understanding and appreciation for what it is that we have attempted to include in the budget that addresses their major concerns,” Price said.

He has so far divulged few details about this year’s budget outline, which will be released later this week, other than that it will balance within 10 years and he plans to use the fast-track legislative tool in order to make some sort of major policy change. (Some GOP colleagues would like to see an overhaul of poverty-related programs, while others would like to clear the path for a potential GOP president to repeal the Affordable Care Act in early 2017.) He declined to offer specifics during the AJC interview.

Last year’s plan

Price was forced to thread a similarly difficult political needle last year, when he was a rookie chairman.

His blueprint last year followed the approach championed previously by Ryan when the Wisconsin Republican was chairman, balancing the budget within 10 years while cutting spending by $5.5 trillion over a decade, repealing the 2010 health care law and making major changes to social programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. It teetered at the edge of disaster at several points after both military and fiscal hawks rebelled and party leaders tried to make an end run around him.

But Price maneuvered his way through the series of conflicts by knowing the members of his committee, working closely with his Senate counterpart and being flexible. He was ultimately rewarded with having his name attached to the first balanced-budget agreement between the House and Senate since 2001. His blueprint also enabled Congress to send a separate bill repealing Obamacare and stripping Planned Parenthood of its federal funding to the president’s desk. (Obama vetoed the legislation last month.)

It will be harder for Price to balance the budget this year, since the country’s aging population is putting more of a strain on entitlement programs, while a deal on taxes and government spending that passed in December added more than a half-trillion dollars to the deficit.

This year’s exercise will be a critical one for Price, who is known for relentless message discipline and has not been shy about his aspirations for elected party leadership. The Michigan-born orthopedic surgeon competed for the House GOP’s No. 2 position last fall after Boehner’s surprise resignation, but he was ultimately boxed out during the process that ultimately propelled Ryan to the speakership.

Asked whether he is eyeing any other leadership posts in the future, Price chose to focus on the present.

“What I’m eyeing at the moment,” he said, “is the budget resolution and the privilege and honor of serving as the chairman of the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives and relishing in the challenge and in the task.”