Price Confirmation Criticism All About Theater

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The political theater occurring in Washington is producing Oscar level material. In fact, it would be appropriate for Hollywood to add a best Kabuki theater category. This way, the Democrats in Congress could finally be recognized for their achievements in chutzpah. We know how much the left likes to celebrate themselves with the annual presentation of trophies.

Any good production needs a good screenplay. In the world of politics, this sometimes requires narrative creation. The basis for the upcoming production is the fight over repeal of Obamacare. The central character is Georgia 6th District Congressman and HHS Nominee Tom Price.

Price is an accomplished physician, having built one of the Southeast’s largest orthopedic medical practices. He’s also quite the policy wonk. As head of the House budget committee he has authored the Republican’s most recent plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature bill, and has the audacity to favor market and state based reforms over centrally planned solutions.

Democrats are heavily invested in the Affordable Care Act, with the investment being their majorities in the House, Senate, and now the White House. Previous awards for outstanding performance devoid of truth has been given to ACA defenses for “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” and “the average family will save $2,500 per year”.

Price has generally been the kind of guy in Washington that would rather present a 40-page PowerPoint on deficit reduction than give a 30 second soundbite for the evening news. As such, he’s generally regarded as a mild mannered, gentlemanly, policy wonk. He’s the kind of person that’s hard to demonize. Thus the outstanding effort for this year’s Democratic leadership.

With an assist from both CNN and the Wall Street Journal, stock transactions that have long since been properly disclosed and perfectly legal and ethical have been put into the spotlight devoid of context and with added spin. Price uses a broker to manage a directed account – meaning that the broker, not Price, picks the investments of publicly traded stocks.

His broker managed to buy 26 shares of a medical company worth $2,700 during a quarterly rebalancing of the portfolio, one of many trades. Price formally introduced legislation a week later that he had been working on publicly for the previous 18 months. The medical company would have found conditions more favorable if the legislation passed. The narrative is that Price is willing to sell out his reputation and character built over decades for profits off of 26 shares of stock.

It’s interesting that Democratic leadership has finally acknowledged the problems with members of Congress having inside information. A critical review of their charges isn’t complete without a review of the “Stock Act”, a measure passed by a Republican led house, which includes a “Pelosi provision”.

Pelosi as speaker profited from an Initial Public Offering from Visa as legislation worked its way through Congress benefitting credit card issuers. The Stock Act’s Pelosi provision specifically prohibits this practice.

Additional awards for chutzpah are given to members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee who own and trade health care stocks. 6 members of the committee have healthcare stocks on their disclosures, 4 of whom are Democrats. Then there’s Senator Al Franken, who harangued Price before his committee for owning tobacco stocks while he himself currently profits from ownership of tobacco stocks.

Price’s formal confirmation hearing will be this week before the Senate Finance Committee. They will ultimately be the committee to vote on his nomination. Because Senate Minority Leader Schumer has demanded a lock down of Democrats against Price for ideological reasons, Price is almost guaranteed to be confirmed, as Republicans will respond by doing the same.

So why the character assassination, over perfectly legal investments that members of Congress make and disclose every day? Because in political Kabuki theater, it’s not about the show you’re actually watching.

Democrats know they’re going to lose this round. They’re playing for the next one. The one where Price assumes control of an agency with a $1.1 Trillion-dollar budget. The one where he has the power to grant waivers to states to demonstrate they can do more with less.

Quite simply, they’re not afraid of Price because they’re worried he will fail. They’re opposing him because they fear he will succeed. Then their great investment giving up all control in Washington, at least temporarily, will have been in vain. They can’t risk giving Republicans the opportunity to demonstrate there’s a better way.

Democrats are going to do whatever they can to trash Tom Price, in order to usurp his future authority by painting him as corrupt. It’s all theater, a show about raw power, and Tom Price is the one who bears the full burden of the cost of the ticket.

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