Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price Thursday refused to say if he agreed with President Donald Trump’s claim that the Republican-authored House health care bill passed last month was “mean.”
But that was about as specific as Price got as he fielded a barrage of tough questions from a Senate subcommittee scrutinizing the agency’s fiscal 2018 budget request.
Republicans and Democrats on the Senate appropriations subcommittee grilled Price about the plan to slash billions from many HHS agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and Medicaid. He didn’t have many precise responses.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked Price if he stood by his May statement that Trumpcare was “a victory for the American people.” But Price said “it’s not a yes or no answer.”
“I’m disappointed, but I absolutely am not surprised you won’t give me a straight answer,” Murray said. “This week, it was reported that President Trump has now changed his tune on the House bill. He is telling senators that he ‘thinks it’s mean’ and that he wants the Senate to make it more generous. So Secretary Price, you are President Trump’s top health care adviser, do you agree the house Trumpcare bill is ‘mean’?”
“Again, I think what we need to be talking about, in terms of the health system, is the constellation ...” Price said.
“Yes or no answer," Murray interrupted.
"No, it's not a yes or no answer," Price continued.
"Mr. Secretary, it’s very clear that you’re not going to stand by your comments or by the president’s. It’s pretty clear to me that there’s been a change since the House bill passed … and I think the president is right,” she said.
Trump told Republican senator at a White House lunch Tuesday that the House measure that he said a month ago was “incredibly well-crafted” was in fact “mean.”
Most of the hearing’s questioning involved the budget. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the subcommittee’s chairman, said he “wouldn’t intend to be part of writing a bill this year that reduces funding for the National Institutes of Health,” which faces big cuts.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called NIH “one of our greatest partners” in the fight against overdose deaths in the state, which has a drug overdose death rate triple the national average.
“I’m having trouble, as many of us are, reconciling your stated goal … of opioid being one of your top three priorities with these dramatic cuts, particularly in this area,” she said.
Price said “we judge the amount of resources as being the success of a program,” and with opioid overdoses, “the numbers are moving in the wrong direction.”
So, he said, “We believe that the opportunity to work together across the department on the opioid crisis will bring greater resources than have been put in in the past.”
Contact: Jessica Campisi, 609-477-0303, firstname.lastname@example.org