On Thursday, Senate Democrats called for a delay in the confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Representative Tom Price (R-Ga.), in order for the House Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate the congressman’s financial investments and stock holdings.
“We don’t know if he broke the law, but there are certainly enough serious questions to warrant an investigation before any hearing is held on Congressman Price to become secretary of HHS,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was joined by Senators Patty Murray and Ron Wyden to lead the charge, said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
The announcement comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that Price allegedly traded more than $300,000 worth of stocks in 40 health-related companies over the past two years. During that time, he sponsored or co-sponsored 44 pieces of legislation in relation to the health industry. Price, the current head of the House Budget Committee, has also led the charge in attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Schumer admitted that he has no evidence of wrongdoing but said he thinks an investigation into whether or not any laws were broken is necessary, because Price could have insider knowledge about the health market due to his congressional position.
Public Citizen, a government watchdog group, echoed that sentiment, saying, “While the information available so far on the stock trading activities of Reps. Price and [Chris] Collins [of New York] falls short of evidence that any illegal insider trading or violations of congressional ethics rules have occurred, the patterns, opportunities and remarkable financial benefits gained, and to be gained, warrant investigation,” in a complaint to the House Office of Congressional Ethics.
However, Phil Blando, a spokesperson for Trump’s transition team, called the delay hypocritical.
“Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington. The same questions being raised today by Senator Schumer about Dr. Price should be directed to Senators Carper, Warner and Whitehouse, who own and have traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and health insurance company stocks,” Blando said about three Democratic senators who will consider Price’s nomination and who appear to have significant holdings in companies over which their committees have direct oversight.
Blando was most likely referring to the 2015 United States Financial Disclosures Reports, which show that Senate Finance Committee member Tom Carper owns over $100,000 in Lincoln National Corp. stock, with his wife separately owning tens of thousands of dollars in in stocks, including Medtronic Inc., PDL BioPharma Inc, Universal Health Realty Income Trust, Omega Healthcare Investors, Medical Properties Trust and Johnson & Johnson. In 2015 and 2016, his wife also traded thousands in Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Universal Health Realty, Met Life, PDL Biopharma, Medtronic and Prudential stock.
According to the reports, Mark Warner, another member of the Finance Committee, owns hundreds of thousands of dollars through his “MRW blind trust” in companies such as Halozyme Therapeutics Inc., Intrexon Corp., Ziopharm Oncology Inc. and Harvest Intrexon Enterprise Fund. He sold over $50,000 worth of MedOptions Inc. stock and bought more than of $100,000 in Harvest Intrexon Enterprise Fund in 2015.
Furthermore, it appears Sheldon Whitehouse, who serves on the Senate’s HELP Committee, owns tens of thousands of dollars in UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, Amgen, Biogen, Merck and Ionis Pharmaceuticals either personally or jointly with his wife. In 2015, he purchased thousands of dollars in shares of Amgen, Gilead, Biogen and Merck.
“The reality is that Dr. Price’s 20-year career as an orthopedic surgeon and a fiscal conservative make him uniquely qualified to lead [Health and Human Services],” Blando continued. “Today’s stunt is simply an effort to deflect attention away from ObamaCare’s dismal record, including reduced choices and $700 billion in Medicare cuts.”
The ethics investigation, if launched, could take months and would evaluate whether or not Price has been in violation of the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress and other government employees from using non-public information derived from their official positions for private profit or personal benefit.
“There is [the] STOCK Act,” Senator Roy Blunt, chairman of the panel that approves funding to HHS, told CNN. “I’m confident [Price] is in compliance with that, knowing [him] as I do as a colleague in the House. Those are the kinds of questions people have to expect to answer if they are nominated to these jobs.”