Tom Price's Senate confirmation hearing: What to watch for

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More than six weeks of careful preparation will come to a head Wednesday morning when Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price takes the hot seat for the first of two Senate confirmation hearings.

The conservative policy wonk is a well-known commodity on Capitol Hill, and Price's records, both political and financial, will be front and center as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee mulls his nomination to be health and human services secretary.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. and can be live-streamed on the committee's website and on

Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

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What exactly is Price’s vision for the Department of Health and Human Services?  

The Roswell Republican hasn’t said a peep publicly about his plans for the sprawling agency of 80,000 employees since he was nominated after Thanksgiving. As head of the department he’ll have broad regulatory authority over everything from healthcare and tobacco to cosmetics and the thousands of undocumented children who have spewed across the Southern border. How familiar is he with the department’s portfolio and how does he plan to run it?

When it comes to the most burning item on the political agenda, tearing down Obamacare and rebuilding a new system in its place, what are his plans? Price over the years was one of the few congressional Republicans to offer his own replacement plan, the Empowering Patients First Act. How much of that proposal will be recycled in a Donald Trump-approved health care alternative? And how closely does Price anticipate working with his soon-to-be ex-House colleagues to fashion that replacement?

How much does Price’s past come back to haunt him?

Democrats haven’t disputed the fact that Price is qualified for the job. They take huge umbrage, however, with his Obamacare replacement plan and past budget proposals that would overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have been messaging for weeks on how Price’s legislative ideas are “extreme” and “dangerous.” Do we see those themes revived during today’s hearing?

Democrats are also likely to try and exploit policy wedges between Price and his soon-to-be boss. Key areas will be entitlement programs and healthcare. Trump on the campaign trail rejected cutting Social Security benefits and converting Medicare into a voucher system, and the president-elect’s “insurance for everybody” pitch sharply differs from the GOP’s “universal access” pledge. Two players to watch will be Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the committee’s most liberal and outspoken members.

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How hard do Democrats hit Price on his stock trades?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn't been shy to hit Price on his financial history. On Tuesday, the New York Democrat strengthened his rhetoric, telling CNN that Price may have violated the law after a new report highlighted his purchase of stock in a medical device maker shortly before introducing a bill that would have directly aided the company. Just how much do Democrats hit on this theme tomorrow, and do they double-down on calls for an independent ethics investigation? Do they have any specific evidence that suggests Price might have committed insider trading?

We'll also be watching to see how Price responds to such allegations. The transition team has so far done the defensive work for him, arguing that he never did anything wrong with his stock trades or disclosures. Also, how forcefully do the committee's Republicans back Price up? Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, argues that Price has done nothing wrong. Ditto for Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the other panel vetting Price's nomination. Hatch's response Tuesday when we asked about Schumer's latest ethics charges? "Total B.S."

Has Isakson’s behind-the-scenes work eased the way for Price at all?

Georgia's senior U.S. senator sits on both the Senate health and finance panels and has positioned himself as Price's chief block and tackle. He's been using some of his bipartisan political capital to call around to Democratic senators and personally vouch for Price. And if that approach doesn't work, Isakson said in a recent interview, Democrats will have to "look me in the eye" if they speak ill of Price during the confirmation hearings. Democrats seem pretty resistant to Price. We'll see if Isakson was able to convince anyone to keep an open mind.