Price nears Senate confirmation as Trump health secretary

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2017 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans are ready to overpower Democrats and push President Donald Trump's next Cabinet nominee through the Senate, the man who will help lead the GOP drive to erase and replace the health care law. The Senate voted 51-48 Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, to short-circuit Democratic delaying tactics against Price, Trump's choice for health secretary. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are ready to overpower Democrats and push another of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees through the Senate, the man who will help lead the GOP drive to erase and replace the health care law.

The Senate voted 51-48 Wednesday to short-circuit Democratic delaying tactics against Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s choice for health secretary. Final approval of Price seemed certain, a vote that would elevate the long-time proponent of dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law and reshaping and curbing Medicare and Medicaid. Those goals, for many Republicans, are high on the GOP agenda.

The debate over Price was coming in a week that has so far seen Democrats, eager to show liberal constituents that they are taking a stand against Trump, ferociously but unsuccessfully opposing two nominees for top administration jobs.

Over solid Democratic opposition and two GOP defections, it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence for the Senate to approve wealthy GOP donor Betsy DeVos on Tuesday to head the Education Department. Under the Constitution, one of the duties of a vice president is to break tie votes in the 100-member Senate.

On Wednesday, the chamber confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be attorney general. That debate was bitter, fueled by Democratic accusations that Sessions lacked a devotion to civil rights laws and wouldn’t stand up to Trump.

The Sessions battle also saw a rare Senate wrist-slap against one of its own as Republicans late Tuesday pushed through a rebuke of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for violating the chamber’s rule against impugning a colleague. That came after Warren read on the Senate floor a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s widow, criticizing Sessions during his rejected judicial nomination 31 years ago.

Price is a conservative seven-term House member from Atlanta’s suburbs who until recently chaired that chamber’s budget committee.

Republicans have talked longingly of confirming Price because one pillar of their strategy to gut Obama’s law is for the Department of Health and Human Services, which he would run, to issue regulations weakening it. Those might include letting states experiment with how they use federal Medicaid funds and restricting access to free birth control for women who work for religious-affiliated nonprofits.

“He’s going to be the guy ultimately who’s responsible for implementing” a GOP replacement plan, said No. 3. Senate Republican leader John Thune of South Dakota. Republicans have yet to craft their proposal.

At Senate hearings on Price’s nomination, Democrats have focused on the former orthopedic surgeon’s considerable stock holdings, especially in health care industry companies. They’ve accused him of conflicts of interest by acquiring those shares, pushing legislation that could benefit those companies and making investments using insider information.

“One nominee in this swamp Cabinet stands out,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of Price, mocking Trump’s “drain the swamp” campaign rhetoric. He added later, “If I were a prosecutor, I’d say this case has real potential.”

Price has said he’s done nothing wrong. It is against the law for members of Congress to engage in insider trading.

Democrats have focused on Price’s purchase last year of around 400,000 shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., an Australian biotech firm. Price has said he learned of the firm from a colleague, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., the company’s largest shareholder, and Price testified to Congress that the shares he bought were available to any investor.

The company has said Price received a special offer to buy shares at a discount. Price has conceded he understated the value of those stocks in financial disclosure forms he filed.

Price also purchased stock last year in Zimmer Biomet, a manufacturer of medical implant devices, around the same time he introduced legislation that would have suspended Medicare rules seen as problematic for such companies.

Price has said the purchase was done by his stockbroker.

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Associated Press reporters Andrew Taylor and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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