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Soon: Trump's HHS Pick Faces Questions on Obamacare. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 10:00   ET



NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think for Tom Price, in the way that you saw senators like Jeff Sessions, he's a member of the club, obviously, Tom Price not a senator but he's a member of Congress. And I think he'll get some deference because of that. And also, because he has been at the tip of the spear in terms of intellectualizing and having a plan, as John said a rollback of Obamacare and giving Republicans a sense of where they can be in terms of Obamacare. But that issue that he has about selling this stock with, you know information is certainly going to come up. You're going to see Democrats really press hard on that and try to embarrass him. But again, the question is, can they peel off some Republicans -- to tank his nomination. It seems unlikely at this point.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But Democrats are going to focus on the big picture today. And I think that there's been no higher priority for Democrats in this transition than to slow down the repeal of Obamacare, to put sand in these wheels. And they have been successful in doing so. They've been successful essentially in dividing the president from some of the Republicans in Congress who were trying to control this debate and simply repeal. The president has felt the heat, that Americans do not want repeal without some replacement. And that is going to be the focus of a smart conversation, I think you'll hear. Between Tom Price, who I think understands much of this, with Democrats -- on the committee. And going forward, that conversation, the things that the president-elect is promising the American people, he will not let happen, is not cheap. And that's why Obamacare is the way it is and they're not going to be able to have it both ways. That's the biggest challenge that Democrats have today, and I think you'll see them focus on it mostly.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I also think Democrats have a motive to take down this particular nominee. This is, aside from Secretary of State, I would say, the single most important pick for Donald Trump to get through. This is someone who is an orthopedic surgeon for 20 years, as Nia points out. He intellectualized the conservative ideas between the replacements for Obamacare. This is the person that's going to be the bridge between repealing Obamacare and ensuring there is either universal access, universal coverage, I agree we have to iron out exactly what Donald Trump means when he intends to do. But this is the person who can achieve that. And aside from Tom Price, I'm not aware of anyone who can do that role and do it effectively, and do it in a way that will be popular with the American people.

ROSEN: I'm going to disagree with you there. I do not think that the test for Democrats' success here will be whether or not Price goes down. The test for Democrats' success will be the preservation of much of the good of Obamacare. There are other nominees the Democrats, I think, are going to be more aggressive on, you know, whether it's EPA and Scott Pruitt, or whether it's labor and secretary of the treasury. This one is really about policy.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Democrats admit and say quite freely that Obamacare is not perfect. They understand that the rise in premiums has been a huge problem. But they also understand, and the CBO report said 18 million people are now insured who were previously uninsured, they understand the importance in every way, including politically, of the preexisting condition provision. And I think what Democrats are going to try and do is say, well, you want to tear it down, we just want to fix it, we understand we need to fix it. If you tear it down, don't leave the American people with instability here regarding their health care and what's available to them. And make it simple so people know. The one thing the American public doesn't want to know is what's going to happen on my child. -- And there need to be answers to that. And I think -- in a way, that is exactly what Donald Trump is saying.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to show our viewers, that -- before confirmation hearings that are about to begin right now, and you can see them on the screen. Tom Price, the nominee to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services. He will appear before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. That's chaired by Lamar Alexander. Wilbur Ross is the nominee to become Commerce Secretary. He'll appear before the Science and Transportation Committee. That will be a hearing that will be going on simultaneously. Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nation. Scott Pruitt will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to become the next head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency.

All four hearings, Jake, about to begin right now. All four could be pretty contentious. But let's not forget, the Republicans have the majority in the United States Senate. They have 52 Republicans, 48 Democrats. You need 50, given the fact that the Vice President Mike Pence, would break a tie, you need 50 to be confirmed. You don't need 60 any longer. No more filibuster when it comes to these cabinet picks, thanks to the former Democratic leader in the Senate.

[10:05:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to talk just a second -- about the nomination of Tom Price to be -- Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, I just want to contrast what's going on right now with his nomination versus eight years ago when former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was President Obama's nominee. Eight years ago, I was White House correspondent. I got a tip that Daschle was having problems in committee as his nomination was being vetted by the staff there. And it turned out and I broke the story for "ABC News" at the time, that there was an issue because he had taken free car rides for several years and had not paid the taxes on it. And then, it ended up derailing the Daschle nomination, he withdrew his name from consideration.

So, two things that are different today than what went on -- eight years ago when I broke that story. One, I broke the story, we had the facts, we reported them. Nobody called it fake news. Nobody said we were smearing him. Nobody said that we were lying about him. They just -- accepted the facts of the report, which were accurate, and they dealt with them the way they thought best. That's not what's going on with the Tom Price nomination with these questions. And you can disagree. And you can think that maybe there isn't anything there. Tom Price says that it was all done through a broker and nothing was inappropriate. That's fine. That's a fine answer. That's up to the Senate to decide whether or not they accept it.

But to just attack facts as fake news is what we're now seeing with this administration. And that's not what we saw eight years ago when I broke the story about Daschle. Number two, the Senate committee was vetting Tom Daschle. They were -- they had issues and questions. I don't see that same sort of diligence going on in the committees. They seem to be rushing through a lot of these nominations.

BLITZER: And it looks like they're going to be approved fairly quickly. Lamar Alexander, the senator from Tennessee, is the chairman of this committee. He has just started the hearing. Let's listen in.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: -- to have single round of seven- minute questions today. That would be the precedent followed with Secretary -- with Secretary Thompson, and that seems to me to give every member of the Senate more time to ask questions of the secretary.

This is a courtesy hearing. Dr. Price will be before the Finance Committee on next Tuesday. A number of the members of this committee are also members of the Finance Committee. We don't vote on his nomination. They vote on his nomination and will be the ones that report it to the floor, if that's their decision. We have the hearing because we have some of the health care jurisdiction, some important parts of it, and we would like to talk to him about especially those issues.

He has all of his paperwork in place before the Finance Committee, including the letter of agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, which is on the website and available to members of this committee, as well as others. And so my hope would be that in our seven minutes of questions that we'd have time to focus on the responsibilities of the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than have a continuing discussion about the number -- the number of minutes.

There will be an opportunity following the hearing to ask written questions of Dr. Price as well.

Dr. Price, if you're confirmed to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, you'll be running an organization that spends $1.1 trillion a year. It has always troubled me, actually, that you'll be in charge of spending more than the Congress actually appropriates every year. By that, I mean the part of the budget that we appropriate, which is under pretty good control, which is the part that has national defense, the National Institutes of Health, the national parks, and national laboratories.

Over the last several years and for the next several years, that part is rising at about the rate of inflation. It's not adding to the budget. It's about a third of the total amount of federal government spending. But it's a little less than the amount that's in your department every year, most of which is entitlement spending, mandatory spending, and which is going up at a rate like that, while the rest of the budget is going like this.

You'll be overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, mental and substance abuse programs. We just enacted in December of last year and the president signed the most important reforms of that -- of those programs in a decade. Senator Cassidy and Senator Murphy were the leaders on that in this committee, along with Senator Murray.

The Food and Drug Administration -- we made important changes in the Food and Drug Administration, giving them new authority, new responsibility.


For example, new authority to hire and pay the experts they need to move products and devices through the FDA at a more rapid rate, saving time and money and getting those devices into the medicine cabinets and the doctors offices. That was Dr. Kayla's (ph) number one priority. We passed that into law in December.

And then the implementation of Obamacare and the various proposals to repair the damage done by Obamacare and replace it with concrete practical alternatives for the American people to give them more choices of lower cost health insurance.

Dr. Price, I believe you're an excellent nominee for this job. You were practicing orthopedic surgeon for nearly two decades. You were a professor at Emery University School of Medicine. I read about the resident doctors in training who you taught. You served as Medical Director of the Orthopedic Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital. In the House, you were chairman of the Budget Committee and you're been a leader in deliberations over the future of our health care system.

So you know the subject very, very well. One of the first responsibilities that you will have is to give us your advice, about how to repair the damage that the Affordable Care Act has caused to so many Americans and how to replace it or to replace parts of it with concrete practical alternatives that give Americans more choices of lower cost insurance.

Let me give my view about how we might proceed on that and then during the question and answer session I will ask you more about your view. Following the presidential election, President-elect Trump said on 60 Minutes that replacement and repeal of Obamacare would be done simultaneously -- his word.

To me, that means that at the same time. And then recently Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done concurrently. And then Senator McConnell said last week, that we need to do this promptly, but in quote, "Manageable pieces." Trying to interpret what those words mean, to me, that means Obamacare should be finally repealed only when their concrete practical reforms in place to give Americans access to truly affordable health care.

The American people deserve health care reform that's done in the right way, for the right reasons and the right amount of time. It's not about developing a quick fix. It's about working toward long term solutions that work for everyone.

One way to think about what simultaneously and concurrently mean, is to think about Obamacare the same way you'd think about a collapsing bridge in your hometown, because that's just what's happening with Obamacare in my home state and many other states.

According to the Tennessee insurance commissioner, the Obamacare insurance market in our state is quote, "Very near collapse." And across the country, premiums and co-pays are up, employers have cut jobs in order to be able to afford the mandates of Obamacare. Medicare mandates are consuming state budgets. In one-third of America's counties, citizens with federal subsidies have only a single choice of company to buy insurance from on the Obamacare exchanges.

Without quick action next year, their may be zero -- zero choices on those exchanges. Their subsidies may be worth as much as a bus ticket in a town where no buses run. If your local bridge in Georgia or in Tennessee were very near collapse, the first thing you'd do, I would think, is to send in a rescue crew to repair the bridge temporarily so no one else is hurt. Then you would build a better bridge, or more accurately, in the case of health care, many bridges to replace the old bridge.

And finally, when the new bridges are finished, you would close the old bridge. That's how I suggest we proceed. Rescue those trapped in a collapsing system. Replace that system with functional markets -- market or markets, as states develop their own plans for providing access for truly affordable health care, and then repeal Obamacare for good.

First, we should offer rescue plans so the 11 million Americans who buy individual insurance now in the exchange, can continue to do so while we build a better set of concrete practical alternatives. Second, we should build better systems, providing Americans with more choices of insurance that cost less.


Note that I say "systems," not "one system." If anyone is expecting Senator McConnell to roll a wheelbarrow onto the Senate floor, with a 4,000-page comprehensive Republican health care plan, they're going to be waiting a long time because we don't believe in that.

We don't wanna replace a failed Washington, D.C., health care system with another failed Washington, D.C., health care system. So we'll build better systems, providing America with more choices of insurances that cost less. And we'll do this by moving more health care decisions out of Washington, D.C. and into the hands of states and patients and by reducing harmful taxes. And we'll do this carefully, step by step, so that it's effective.

Finally, we should then repeal what remains of the law that did the damage and created all this risk. I know that the president-elect has said that after a year of confirmed, which is I hope, is fairly early in February, that he will propose a plan to Congress.

I look forward to that plan. And I know you can't tell us what the plan is, today. But I do look forward to hearing from you, how you suggest we approach this. We wanna do this right. We wanna sequence the events carefully and adequately so that Americans have concrete, practical alternatives in place of what is there today.

And we want to make sure that the parts of Obamacare that are repealed are replaced, before the repeal becomes effective.

Senator Murray?

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you very much, Chairman Alexander. Thanks to all of our colleagues that are joining us today.

Congressman Price, congratulations on your nominee -- nomination and thank you to your wife, Betty, who I know is here with you, as well (ph).

But before I speak about this nominee, I do wanna say that we remain deeply disappointed in last night, where Democrats were blocked from asking more than one round of questions on Betsy DeVos's nominee for secretary of Education. And are disappointed that we are rushing this hearing, as well.

Mr. Chairman, you said seven minutes but I will just say, I don't think any of us in prior nominees that you keep pointing to, ever thought, if I don't ever -- if I don't ask for another question, I have just set a precedent. I -- in fact, I think that there is no example of any senator asking to do a question before and being turned down.

So these nominees, in a new administration that many people have questions about, deserve to be asked questions, scrutinized in public, before we have a choice to make on the floor of the United States Senate, on both sides of the aisle, in terms of whether we vote yes or no.

That is why we think it's extremely important that we are allowed the opportunity to ask second rounds of questions after we have heard all of the questions. And today, we have three or four committee hearings going on at the same time as this.

So it is extremely challenging for our senators to be here, on a nomination they care deeply about, on a subject that we care deeply about. So I would just like to point out again, that several nominees that have come before, if we're gonna talk about president, Secretary Leavitt, President George Bush's second HHS secretary, five bipartisan senators participated in a second round.

Senator Daschle, the president nominee's -- Obama's first HHS secretary, three bipartisan senators participated. And again, it is unprecedented for a chairman to turn down a member who has a question to ask.

So for the record, I would just like to ask consent to put parts of the record of the nominees of Michael Leavitt, Andrew von Eschenbach and Tom Daschle into the record of this hearing.

ALEXANDER: That'll be fine.

MURRAY: And again, our members have questions because this nominee is going to have jurisdiction over the health care and lives of millions of Americans and we wanna know where he stands before we make a decision, yes or no, (inaudible) to him to be there. So that is why it is so important to members of our community.

Now, having said that, I wanna say this. The health of our families and communities could not the more important to our strength as a nation. When a young child goes to school healthy and ready to learn, she's better prepared to succeed.

When women are empowered to plan their families and pursue all of their dreams, our communities benefit. When workers have access to quality health care that they can afford, our economy grows. And when seniors are able to trust that the guarantee of programs they have paid into, Medicare and Social Security will be there when needed, we live up to some of our countries most vital responsibilities.


The Department of Health and Human Services has a critical role to play in our ongoing work to meet each of these goals and many more. That is why in evaluating a nominee for secretary of health and human services I consider whether the nominee has a record of putting people first, not politics, not partisanship or those at the top; whether they will put science first, not ideology; and whether their vision for health care in our country would help more families get quality, affordable care or take us backwards.

Congressman Price, I have serious concerns about your qualifications and plans for the department you hope to lead. And I'm looking forward to hearing from you today on a number of topics. I'll start by laying out issues with what your record suggests about your approach to our nation's health care system.

Just last week, you voted to begin the process of ripping apart our health care system without any plan to replace it, despite independent studies showing that nearly 30 million people would lose health care coverage, even though more and more members of your own party are expressing serious doubts about its ability to unify around a plan and knowing that in a matter of weeks, you could be leading the department whose core responsibility is to enhance America's health and well being. My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes wondering what the future holds for their health care, given the chaos Republican efforts could cause. President-elect Trump and Republican leaders have promised the American people their plans to dismantle our health care system right away would somehow do no harm and would not cause anyone to lose coverage. In fact, just days ago, President- elect Trump promised, quote, "insurance for everybody."

But Congressman Price, your own proposals would cause millions of people to lose coverage; force many people to pay more for their care; and leave people with preexisting conditions vulnerable to insurance companies' rejecting them or charging them more.

So I will be very interested in hearing your explanation of how you have your plans to how we would keep the promises your party has made to the American people about their health care.

Medicare is another issue I will be interested in hearing about today. President-elect Trump campaigned on promises to protect Medicare and Medicaid. You have said you plan to overhaul Medicare in the first six to eight months of this administration in a way that would end the guarantee of full coverage, that so many seniors and people with disabilities rely on.

You have put forward policies that would shift a trillion dollars in Medicaid costs to our states, squeezing their budgets and taking coverage away from struggling children and workers and families. And while President-elect Trump has said that Medicare should be able to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, you have repeatedly opposed efforts to do that. You even went so far as to call legislation on that issue a "solution in search of a problem."

I disagree. This is absolutely critical for families in my home state and I'm eager to hear how you would reduce the burden of prescription drug costs in our communities.

As a woman, as a mother and a grandmother, and a United States senator, I am deeply troubled by the ways in which your policies would impact women's access to health care and their reproductive rights. I have serious concerns about your understanding of women's needs for basic health care like birth control, given your expressed doubts on this topic, your proposals to make women pay extra out-of-pocket for birth control, and your repeated efforts to de-fund our nation's largest provider of women's health care, Planned Parenthood.

And I'm also very focused on the role of the Department of Health and Human Services in strengthening and protecting public health. So I will want to hear from you about whether and how you would uphold the gold standard of FDA approval and for example, how you would approach important programs and rules intended to keep tobacco companies from luring children into addiction.

Finally, as I discussed at our hearing yesterday, I believe firmly that especially as the president-elect tries to blur lines around conflicts of interest, it is critical we not only do everything in our power to hold him to high standards, but we do the same for Cabinet nominees. That's why I was so appalled that with four of the president-elect's nominees currently serving in the House of Representatives, House Republicans attempted right out of the gate to get rid of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.


Now, luckily they heard loud and clear from people across the country it wasn't acceptable, and they backed down.

Congressman Price, the Office of Congressional Ethics has now been asked not only by Democrats, but by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen to investigate serious concerns and questions about your medical stock trades during your time in the House. I and other Democrats have repeatedly called for hearings on your nomination to be delayed until such an investigation is complete. It is disappointing to us that instead, Republicans are moving forward with your nomination before we have all the facts. I hope you've come prepared to be fully transparent with us in your explanation.

So, I've outlined just a few of my questions and concerns about this nomination, and I know in light of Republican efforts to take our health care system in a vastly different and harmful direction, that our shared by millions of people across the country who can't be here today. With that in mind, it's crucial that the voices of people who will be impacted every day by choices made under this administration are part of the process when it comes to the president-elect's Cabinet nominees. So I just want to say I'm very pleased that tomorrow Senators Warren and Stabenow will be hosting a forum with witnesses who can speak to the impact of health care providers like Planned Parenthood; the importance of the work done in the Affordable Care Act to expand access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment; and the ways in which the full guarantee of Medicare has helped keep them financially and physically secure.

There are stories across the country like this, of lives saved and strengthened because of the progress we've made to expand quality, affordable health care. I urge my Republican colleagues to attend and to prioritize what is best for these women and men and families, not what's best for politics as they consider each of the decisions in the coming weeks.

Congressman Price, as we begin this hearing, I would ask you to be as transparent and frank as possible about your views and your plans for the department, and urge you to commit to providing us with additional information and answers to any followup questions we have in a timely and thorough manner.

I'm looking forward to what I hope will be a rigorous and open discussion today, and I hope that we all arrive at the right decision for the families and the communities that we serve.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Murray.

Before I introduce Senator Isakson, I'd like to put in the record the information about the last six hearings that we've had here, without going into detail: the current secretary, one round of questions; Secretary Sebelius, one round with one member asking a second round; Daschle, one round, plus three; Leavitt, six members ask a second round; Thompson, one round of seven minutes each; Shalala, six members ask a second round.

So my decision is that rather than give six of 23 members a second round, that it would be better to let every senator have seven -- seven minutes.

Now, Senator Isakson.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to ask unanimous consent that my remarks that were prepared for me to read this morning be submitted for the record.

ALEXANDER: They will be.

ISAKSON: Because I'm not going to read them.

I have the unique honor and privilege to introduce a friend of mine for 30 years, someone I know to be a great politician, a great practicing legislator, a great family man, a great community servant, and a great friend of mine. And it's an honor for me to do so.

I want to thank each of you for taking my call before this meeting today when I called you to ask you to listen what Tom had to say, because I think you'll be impressed with what you hear, no matter how tough the question might be.

You know, I approach this introduction as if I'm being asked what I would look for in somebody who I wanted to entrust with $1 trillion of my money; the quality of my health care; and the future of the American quality of health care.

I'd look for five things. First, does this man understand the American family? Not only does he understand it, but his wife Betty is here.

Betty, stand up.


She'll tell you he understands the family. And his son, Robert, is not here because he's in Nashville, Tennessee singing country music and writing country music songs, which I know the chairman would appreciate. And he's a fine young man, and I enjoy working with him.

Tom is a great family man, a member of Roswell United Methodist Church, active in his community, active in the state legislature, active in doing what's right for his community. He's a good man and understands the family and the value of the family and the value of health care to every family.

Secondly, I'd want to know: Is he capable of handling a trillion dollars? You know, a trillion dollars is a lot of money. It's actually $1.1 trillion, but when you get to 1.1, why worry about it?


It's a lot of money. It's more than we appropriate, as the chairman said.